I made a decision a few weeks ago and I finally followed through on it today. I decided to take my son off his soccer team. This was tough for many reasons, not the least of which is that no one- not his father, not the coach, nor any of the other parents on the team- agrees with me. It can be nerve-wracking to stand up for yourself and do what you feel is right when everyone thinks you are crazy… and when you are a parent, and the people who think you are crazy are other judgey parents, and that THING is soccer? Nearly impossible.
I did it though, because as scary as the backlash and forthcoming temper tantrums from my ex are, nothing scares me more than the absolute certainty that I’m doing this wrong, this parenting thing. At 37 years old, I have tossed out everything I used to think I knew. I have disassembled my perspective on life and I am slowly, carefully, putting it back together with only the pieces I know belong. Quite honestly I have very few pieces in place. Maybe that’s all I will ever have as the older I get, the less I realize I know to be truth. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know- KNOW- that narrowing one’s perspective, limiting one’s opportunities, eliminating choice, and replacing what should matter with what should not is bad. I know that being kind matters. I know that family matters. And I know that it is my job to make sure I don’t lead my children down a path I know won’t lead them to happiness.
My oldest son is a great soccer player. He is on the premiere team and this means he has practice three nights a week, games every Saturday and Sunday, and this lasts ten months out of the year, the other two months to be replaced with indoor soccer every weekend during the winter. If for some reason he needs to miss soccer, I have to ask permission from his coach who gives me a lecture on dedication and work ethic. (I don’t think I need to elaborate on the eye-rolling that ensues when you lecture a working single mother of three with no financial support on the subject of work ethic.) My son has never taken music lessons. He isn’t in any clubs or on any other teams. He has never played anything but soccer his entire life. Oh, and he’s twelve.
I sent the coach a letter today explaining my decision to take my son off his team. I’m sharing it here because I want to expand the commentary from a discourse about youth soccer to something a little bit larger: if you are a parent and you are educated, thoughtful, and want what is best for your child to become a happy, healthy adult someday, do what you know to be best for that child. Everyone has an opinion on how you’re doing it wrong and how to do it better, but your opinion is the only one that matters. If you find yourself the only dissenter in a mass of parental peer pressure, whatever it is, consider me rooting for you. And good luck.
My Letter to the Coach:
I am writing to discuss with you my decision to take Matthew out of year round soccer, to explain why this is important to me, and to ask if you will accommodate an alternate schedule for him on your team.
First, Matthew’s father and I have equal split time with Matthew and if he should wish to continue taking Matthew to his practices and games on his weekdays and weekends, I would like to know if you will accommodate him. I will not be taking him to soccer again or allowing him to attend on my days until tryouts for next season begin when I will allow him to join a select team.
As for why I am taking Matthew out of year round soccer, I think this is important to communicate with you as you are a parent and have likely had similar thoughts of your own on what is best for your children. Matthew has been playing soccer since he was 4 years old. Up until four years ago, I managed his team and helped his father coach. He has not been exposed to anything other than soccer in the way of extra-curricular activities. I reasoned that this was okay because he was gaining so much from soccer- it was healthy, good for his self esteem, and was teaching both to work hard for what he wanted and to be a successful part of a team. Over the past year, I have found that the lessons my children are learning from soccer are primarily harmful these days and contradictory to my reasons as a parent for exposing him to the sport in the first place. I feel the importance placed on soccer at such a competitive level in children so young is teaching them a skewed perspective on what really matters in life, that teaching them to win at all costs, to be mean and critical and value a competitive spirit over camaraderie and encouragement is actually very harmful. I do not agree that soccer practice (or games for that matter) should take precedence over family, health, or education. I also feel that every child on that team is being forced to miss a large portion of their childhood, to forgo exposure to the vast myriad of experiences expressly available to us only as children, in order to train as though they are Olympians when the reality is that few if any of them will play beyond high school, and all of this misplaced over-exertion is wasted. I have been harassed by previous coaches for making the decision to keep Matthew home when he was feverish and it was raining, for choosing to take the children Christmas shopping (when your time with your children is limited by joint custody and work, sometimes you have to choose between these things), for missing practice to visit a dying relative in the ICU… I have spent family weekends camping, fishing, and visiting with far away Grandparents without my son there because the coach called the shots instead of me. And I have watched my son turn into an unlikable ass who yells at his teammates, looks down on others, and has absolutely no idea what actually causes real happiness.
I will continue to encourage him in soccer, but I intend to move him to Select next year as it has been made clear to me that balance in one’s life is not an option on a Premiere team. I hope you will understand my decision even if you do not agree with it and I wish the team the very best for the remainder of the season.