Monday, April 24, 2006

Soccer Dad (Part 1)

I'm a soccer dad.

I didn't want to be, but I am.

I didn't want my daughter associated with that evil game, because nothing says “suburbanite” like having kids that play in a soccer league. I always scoffed at the parents that had a soccer ball sticker on the back of their minivan and thought to myself: “that’ll never be me, no way!” yet here I am.

How did I get here? It was because of the church. In fact, it was Jesus Christ himself. Oh, laugh if you like, but work with me for a moment. We are members of the local Lutheran Church in our neighborhood… my family is active in many facets of church life, my wife is President of the Congregational Council, a lay reader and teaches adult Sunday school. I am a Worship Assistant, a member of the Outreach ministry, and I teach adult Sunday school. Olivia attends (and really enjoys) Sunday school. What’s this got to do with soccer? Simply this: We are members of Christ’s church and because, as believers, we are called to worship and fellowship together.

At Olivia’s baptism we committed to training our daughter in Christian education. One of Olivia’s Sunday school chums plays soccer, and her mom (also a member of the church) is a coach. Karen talks to Olivia about soccer, Olivia talks to Susan, Susan talks to Debbie, they all settle on it and tell me what I am going to do. Ergo, I am a soccer dad because of Jesus. Thank you, Lord (note the sarcasm).

A few weeks before soccer practice is due to begin, we find out that one of Olivia’s mates from her 1st grade class is also going to be on the same team and the circle is complete.

I was determined to see Olivia fully kitted out for soccer because I want her to have everything she needs, and because I want to be a fully supportive, inclusive, and participatory dad (this means a lot to me for reasons I may discuss in another posting on another day). I went down my checklist for things I needed: shorts, shin guards, size 4 soccer ball (metallic pink… whatever happened to black and white?), and cleats. The cleats... God help me… the cleats.

This is a new realm for me. I’m not Methuselah, but apparently I am a man of a different era. You see, when I was a lad (thats how you know I am middle-aged… I use the word “lad” regularly) cleats were black, and sometimes they had white stripes. The cool guys on my football team (cool being defined as being a wide receiver or quarterback… I was an offensive lineman) wore white cleats… but that was as varied as you got. So when I told Olivia that I was going to buy her cleats later in the week, she said: “I want pink cleats, daddy!” I didn’t know such things existed, so I asked Susan, who showed me the photo advertisement for pink cleats in the previous Sunday newspaper (The Washington Post). Being a dutiful dad who wants the best for his girly-girl daughter, I set out to find these shoes.

My first stop was Sports Authority… they’ll have them surely… they have EVERYthing. I go to the section with children’s cleats and find… nothing. Damn! No worries, there are plenty of athletic shoe stores in the mall; I’ll go look at them. I went to all of the athletic shoe stores in the mall and found no cleats in any of them. I was rather annoyed because I got the impression that none of these so-called athletic shoe stores were about athletes. These stores all sold $150.00 shoes that people appeared not to use for sports, but just to look cool. I don’t get it. Anyway, I was still in the hunt for these shoes. The next day, I used my lunch break to go to a different mall and found some black Nike cleats that have the trademark silver Nike swoosh highlighted in pink. The rim of the upper is also pink. OK, I thought, this should work, but in order to he sure, I went to another store in the same mall, and bought a pair of metallic pink and silver cleats. I also bought pink laces for both. I felt really good about myself having accomplished my mission. I was also pleased that I didn’t have to take the rest of the day off to find these bloody shoes (which I would have done, if I was unsuccessful at lunch time). Thank you, Lord.

OK, lets look at this: I have a ball, practice clothing, socks, shin guards, pink cleats, and a very sociable, girly-girl daughter that is excited about playing a game (about which she knows nothing) with her friends. We are ready.

The first practice is scheduled, and on the day of days, we all go to one of the local elementary schools, which has our assigned practice field. Coach Debbie meets with the parents while the girls run around the playground, shrieking about nothing as little girls sometimes do. Debbie made all of us sign a parent’s pledge about the rules of parental behavior during games (groan!), discussed games, attendance at practice, scorekeeping etc… she also informed us that the team’s name will be the Iron Butterflies (how cool is THAT? Those of you, who have no idea of why that is so cool, go to Having finished all of the administrative folderol, she asked for volunteers for certain things like snack mom, trophy mom, and end-of-season-party mom. All of the worthy ladies volunteered for these duties, after which Debbie said that she needed an assistant coach (looking at me pointedly). I told her that all I know about soccer is that the ball was round, instead of the properly shaped oval of a rugby ball, and that you can’t use your hands, nor can you tackle. She said that that was enough… so guess what? I am now an assistant soccer coach. Thank you, Lord.

Since I knew/know nothing about what some people call “the beautiful game”, I went out and bought “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coaching Youth Soccer”. I read a bit of it, and it mostly made sense to me… never mind the rules of the game… Coach Debbie can work on that… I just need to know a bit about useful drills and things like that for the moment. Our team practice is held on Thursdays, but on Tuesday evenings, Olivia and I go to a nearby field for a little personal practice. We practice dribbling, passing, agility, and other things, just so she can learn her ball handling skills (and I can learn how to coach). I’m not a tyrant, so we keep it to about 45 minutes or an hour’s worth of practice, followed by about 20 minutes on the playground. It’s fun.

So I stand before you, my friends, a soccer dad, a soccer coach. I didn’t want to be, but here I am. Olivia is glad that soccer is something that we share… just the two of us (I am too). Sometimes she teases me and calls me "Coach Daddy". It makes her happy… and it makes me very happy, too.

Thank you, Lord (sarcasm deleted)

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