Every night before bed I read to my children. My six-year-old loves soccer, so we read any soccer book we can find with pictures. Most recently, we stumbled upon a book called The Beautiful Game by Tom Watt, which highlights the personal stories of international pro soccer players. After reading each player’s story over and over, I noticed some common themes in the lives of these super star “Futbol-ers” that may have had a great deal to do with their success. So, soccer Moms, if you think your little one is the next Pele’ or Beckam, listen up.
One of the more interesting themes that I picked up on is the fact that many, if not the majority of pro-European players in this book had parents, and specifically fathers, who never pushed or pressured them into performing. Rather, they pushed themselves and didn’t rely on their parents to get them on a specific team or take them to practices — they got scrappy and figured it out. No screaming dads, or moms, on the sidelines criticizing their son’s game. Instead, parents who simply said “how do you think you played?” Supportive, but not critical. Hard to believe, but I swear, read the book and you’ll hear this over and over. I noticed after my son’s game this past weekend he didn’t ask me how I thought he played, so I didn’t offer my opinion, even though I was dying to ask him how in the world he missed a goal! Instead, I kissed him and said “that was fun.” That was it. And he said he wished he had a game every day of the week and went off to practice some more by himself. Seems like there’s something to just letting these young kids push themselves.
So where am I going with this? As working parents we are very used to juggling. We plan, arrange and schedule every minute of our lives, and our children’s lives, and try to control every outcome. Little do we realize, but we are constantly juggling, even from the sidelines. The natural approach of “just let it happen” has become far-fetched, and in fact, down right unrealistic! The screaming and running up and down the sidelines, is simply a continuation of juggling to win. When do we take a moment not to juggle and not to win? I realized that I forced myself last weekend not to ask my son how he goofed what should have been an easy goal. It was second nature to juggle, to fix the problem and to plan how he was going to make that goal the next time. We are both better off that I let it go.
Remember when we were kids? When we played after school with our friends until being called in for dinner? Activities weren’t organized, we were left to ourselves to get creative and play. Similarly, nearly every soccer player in this beautiful book referred back to their childhood and the hours of soccer they played with friends and neighbors before and after school, and every second of the weekend. The games were never organized, just pick-up games that anyone could join, and the kids of all ages worked through their differences themselves. I love this idea, kids just hanging out after school, playing soccer (or any sport for that matter) for hours with perhaps one parent glancing at them through a window now and then. No coaches. No instruction. Just kids competing against each other and creating memories and friendships of a lifetime.
Lesson learned. Typical jugglers, which include working moms, could all probably benefit from enjoying moments of life that really don’t require us to be in control. The results can suffocate our kids, squash their unique spirits and make the road to greatness perhaps harder. My son grinned from ear to ear after his game and seemed happy just to know that I watched without criticism, without question and without a plan! And we both had fun.