Soccer It To Me!

My children’s summer soccer season is winding down, which means that things are gearing up for soccer tournament weekend.

In the spirit of volunteerism, I always try to get involved in some way in my children’s activities. You know, doing things like nagging my children that they have to attend soccer practice, driving them to soccer practice, and, if I remember, picking them up from soccer practice. I also try to go to their actual games.

Last year, I received a call and was asked to help assemble a couple of dozen soccer nets in preparation for the tournament weekend. So I showed up with a couple of other novice net assemblers and received a quick tutorial on the finer points of assembling soccer nets. Thusly educated, my partner and I set off on our own to help out.

We had completed at least a dozen assemblies, when I noticed a couple of the veterans having what appeared to be an agitated discussion beside one of our nets. I watched as one of them ran over to us, and in an extremely polite manner, informed us that we had reversed the right brace with the left, and vice versa. He then asked us to please stop helping out.

We felt really bad about the whole thing, and despite the veterans pleas, felt obliged to correct the whole mess we had made. And we did! Then we skulked off. I fully expect not to receive another phone call to help out this year.

Anyway, I have been intimately involved with my children’s soccer life ever since we first registered them as six-year olds to watch them and their teammates travel in a tight knot of wadded up children in pursuit of the soccer ball. At this early stage of their soccer development, the rules of soccer were not enforced too rigidly in as much as the knot of children were free to travel well out of bounds, sometimes into the parking lot.

Now that my older children have graduated to full field soccer, we can watch them travel in a tight knot of wadded up teenagers in pursuit of the ball, but at least they play within bounds now.

As North Americans, we must admit to ourselves that we, meaning our children, do not play soccer very well. We must search for the answers as to why this is the case.

I coached my children’s soccer teams for three years, and this alone may explain why our kids can’t play soccer very well. Growing up, I never played the game, never understood the game, never watched the game, and I don’t know the rules. Yet this black hole of soccer knowledge failed to prevent me from being in a position of soccer authority over a gaggle of wide-eyed soccer wannabes. Granted, I did attend a coaching clinic that went over the basic rudiments of the game.

I tried to impart my newly gained soccer knowledge to my players during practice with conversations like this:

Me: What shape is a soccer ball?

Players [in unison]: silence

Me: Okay, a soccer ball is round. Now what shape is the end of your soccer shoe?

Players [again, in unison]: silence

Me: Okay, okay, that’s all right. The end of your soccer shoe is also round. Now, what happens if you try to kick a round soccer ball with the round end of your soccer shoe?

My son: Dad, when does soccer practice end?

Me: What happens is that you can’t control what direction the ball is going to go in. This is why we kick a soccer ball with the flat inside of our shoe, so that we can kick the ball where we want it. Get it???

My son’s friend: Can we knot up and chase the ball now?

I think that the vast majority of the other soccer coaches in North America handle coaching more or less the same way. I do not think that this is how coaches in Europe handle things. Our league president loaned me a tape from a professional European soccer-coaching outfit called Coerver’s Coaching, who also coincidentally provide coaching clinics in North America for only $1,200 per kick.

Anyway, I brought this tape home and successfully popped it into our VCR on only the third try. I watched in amazement at the precision with which children who appeared to be no more than eight months old executed a variety of complex soccer drills that would dribble circles around our kids. Heaven help us if these coaches ever decide to train the European military.

Regardless of our coaching abilities, I thoroughly enjoy soccer because it keeps our kids active, out of doors in the fresh air, and, call me sentimental; it develops their sense of a growing up in a close-knot community.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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