It occurred to me last Saturday, when I was standing in arctic winds on the soccer field at a local high school, that my career as a soccer parent was more than half over. By the end of the weekend, it occurred to me that this may not be an entirely bad thing. I didn't bargain for Little League.
This season opened ominously. The first game was an away game that got rained out. The second game was an away game that also got rained out, only nobody bothered to tell us. But the parents, at least, took that in good stride since no one was terribly keen on the idea of standing in the rain watching our 12-year-old sons play soccer. We had done that already. A number of times.
The third game of the season was also an away game and by then the parents of the team were as eager as the kids to see a game actually get played. That day, the referees didn't show up. Perfectly nice parents whom I have known for years were making perfectly dreadful suggestions about what to do to the coordinators responsible for referees. We knew years ago what we were getting into with a traveling soccer team, but so far this fall all we'd done was travel.
The following weekend, the season actually got under way and we played a game, chalking up the first victory of the season. Normally, I take a dim view of nonparticipants in a game using the term "we." For example: it strikes me as totally absurd for somebody who is sitting on a barstool in Washington to use the term "we" in discussing a Redskins game. With soccer parents, however, there is a logic to the term "we." We produced the players. We feed them. We drive them around the Beltway for games, which is what happened a couple of weeks later when we ended up on a Sunday afternoon near the Capital Centre.
This time the referees did show up and one of them was in a terrible mood. Or else he was on a power trip, which is not unheard of in adults who are involved in children's sports. In any event, our coach -- a mild-mannered, former college soccer star who has been known on occasion to raise his eyebrows at officiating (never his voice, of course) -- protested a call in such a fashion as to attract a referee's attention and he received a yellow card warning. His attempts at explaining what he had done were immediately met by a red card and he had to leave the field. This was a moment of high drama in the history of our soccer team, which went on to win.
(Unfortunately, there was more to come. I had locked my keys in the car. If you want to feel like a real dummy sometime, try telling a woman behind a locked door about how you were in her neighborhood for a soccer game and locked your car keys in your car and could you borrow a coat hanger that you will bring right back. "Don't bother," she said, handing out a coat hanger.)
The season dragged on longer than usual this year because snow caused a lot of makeup games to be canceled. On Saturday, teams all around the area were playing in the kind of cold that turns people blue. The highlight of our game came when it ended.
Real drama, however, occurred the following day on a field in Annandale.
Before the game started, the woman referee warned the coaches that if they started yelling at her she would red-card them. The game began well enough but our team scored on an unusual circumstance. The opposing coach argued that it wasn't a goal, and there was much consulting of rule books and so forth and while the goal stood, so did the ugly mood. Our team scored again and the next thing you know adults from the other team -- including the linesman -- were yelling at the referee and she yellow-carded the coach. The yelling continued, however, and within a few minutes the referee stopped the game and gave a red card to the coach.
Whereupon he withdrew his team from the field, forfeiting the game, minutes before the end of the first half.
None of our kids had ever seen such a display and neither had any of the parents. The teams were not able to play the last game of the season. Moreover, the kids on both teams were witnessing a display of unsportsmanlike conduct more appropriate to "The Bad News Bears" than to local youth soccer.
Soccer took off in this area partly in a reaction to the overly competitive and over-managing adults who thought Little League was a farm system for the Yankees. Unfortunately, some of those competitive pressures are now affecting soccer. Each season, the local leagues have had to issue warnings to parents and to coaches about their behavior on the sidelines. And that's too bad.
It's supposed to be a sport for kids and not a power trip for adults.