Sunday, October 24, 2010

LAST HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER SEASON

Reflections on 10 years of being a high school soccer parent

On Saturday, an era came to an end.  Our fourth child’s team played a tough match but did not advance in the semi-final round of the Indiana state high school soccer tourney.  Our hearts sank just as low as the highs we have enjoyed as we’ve watched our children and their teams play in this and in many previous seasons.

But this was the last high school game, as Sam is a senior and our youngest child.  I guess I knew this day would come, but it was always out there somewhere.  There was always next season.  But, while Sam will resume club competition soon and perhaps play at a university, the unique journey of varsity high school soccer ends here.

Below, I make a few observations and reflections, as much to capture the moment for myself as to share some perspective on our 10-year experience as a high school soccer parents.  While our experience with soccer and soccer parenting is longer, fuller, and ranges wider, it is the high school soccer arena that is my focus here.

When I say “we,” I mean Becky and me.  Though my spouse may not agree with everything I share here, we’ve shared this experience.  Becky has likely given more of herself through her time and efforts than me.  Her encouragement of our kids has included transportation, hosting team dinners, volunteering for concessions, endless uniform washing cycles, scheduling pre- and post-game team meals, and, of course, clearing schedules to be cheering on the sidelines at every home and away game for a decade.  Becky’s been our kids’ and their teams’ #1 fan.

1  We felt like it was important for our kids to be involved in a range of extracurricular activities throughout their secondary education.  We anticipated that our adolescent kids would be doing something with their time and energies after class dismissed each day and we were glad to encourage them to do this and not some other things.  We felt like team activities would build some positive things in our kids.  Since they were all physically adept and enjoyed soccer when they were younger, high school soccer seemed like a natural progression.  We didn’t push our kids into this arena, but we clearly set them up to desire to participate and excel in varsity soccer.  It has offered a balance of physical conditioning, personal discipline, and social maneuvering.  Our thinking has been that these varied developmental exposures and experiences are essential equipping for responsible adult and community life.

2  Given the context of a public metropolitan high school, we’ve tried to help our kids have the best possible soccer experience.  Club soccer competition is of a higher caliber than high school soccer, but high school has been rich for its cultural diversity, school spirit, and friendships that endure.  While sometimes it’s been frustrating to watch less-skilled high school players reduce the likelihood of winning games, it’s also been a joy to observe some of those same players develop both on and off the field and to see our kids have a variety of friends.  The international flavor and socio-economic diversity of our kids’ metropolitan public high school soccer teams has been a refreshing contrast to suburban and private school squads they’ve typically faced.  Personally, I’ve come to value and appreciate public high school soccer competition over any other setting.

3  We’ve endured poor coaching, challenged terrible coaching, and lauded excellent coaching.  Through it all, we’ve supported our kids, their team, and their schools.  One coach was abusive, so we and others shared our concerns about him with school officials and he was removed.  Under the coach that replaced him, Jared thrived and emerged as an award-winning player, earning a university scholarship.  Most of the high school coaching we’ve observed, however, has been poor-to-mediocre.  Most of our kids’ coaches have had more player and team potentials on their hands than they’ve realized, known how to develop, motivate or strategically deploy in game play.

4  We’ve learned to appreciate the value of a soccer-supporting high school Athletic Director and observed the impact of a soccer-care-less one.  One AD with a football and baseball background told soccer parents at an initial meeting that he didn’t care for soccer but the he would try to like it.  In spite of his indifference and carelessness in hiring coaches, the school’s soccer teams won several conference and county tournaments in one of the most competitive conferences in the state over six years.  I still wonder what might have been possible had he cared a lick.  On the other hand, we’ve seen another AD promote a high school’s soccer program to state prominence even with a less-than-stellar coach.

5  While our family life has not been centered around high school soccer, it became something we all got involved in and I think through it we’ve been enriched.  We’ve had some wild schedules over the past ten years, with four kids playing in opposite directions (two in high school and two in junior high school) on the same night and a game on every weeknight.  But instead of fragmenting and scattering us, it strengthened us.  Each child knew they were supported and each supported the other whenever possible.

6  High school soccer became something of a workshop for some values and commitments Becky and I felt were important for our kids to experience, like cooperation, sportsmanship, confidence, awareness of competition and fair play, and leadership development.  We’ve also been aware that, if you recognize the subtleties of it, spiritual development can occur in training and in competition, as well as through the turning of seasons and changing of teams.

7  High school soccer has helped me learn and grow as a parent and as a person.  How?  By challenging me to deal with expectations.  By compelling me to draw boundaries.  By letting me observe my kids in relationship to other kids in pressure-cooker situations.  By giving me opportunity to admire them as they strive to excel.  By helping me tune into who they uniquely are and so help me help them become what is possible within and for them.  So, through high school soccer, I’ve come to appreciate Abby’s bright social spirit, Jared’s more quiet strength, Molly’s unflappable determination, and Sam’s gregarious if cantankerous way.
I’m sure there’s much more I’ve learned across this journey defined by one late summer and autumn soccer season after another.  For now, however, I’m satisfied to name these and leave their implications and possibilities for unpacking on down the road.  Most of all, I’m grateful for a spouse and children who’ve made this journey together and who, I hope and pray, are better—and will be—for it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

TOO MUCH


I found this penetrating prayer poem of Ted Loder this morning. I must have overlooked it in my frequent plundering of Guerrillas of Grace over the past 15 years.

Sometimes, Lord,
it just seems to be too much:
too much violence, too much fear;
too much of demands and problems;
too much of broken dreams and broken lives;
too much of war and slums and dying:
too much of greed and squishy fatness
and the sounds of people
devouring each other
and the earth…

Sometimes the very air seems scorched
by threats and rejection and decay;
until there is nothing
but to inhale pain
and exhale confusion.

Too much of darkness, Lord,
too much of cruelty
and selfishness
and indifference...

Too much, Lord,
too much,
too bloody,
bruising,
brain-washing much.

Or is it too little,
too little of compassion,
too little of courage,
of daring,
of persistence,
of sacrifice;
too little of music
and laughter
and celebration?

O God,
make of me some nourishment
for these starved times,
some food
for my brothers and sisters
who are hungry for gladness and hope,
that, being bread for them,
I may also be fed
and be full.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

REFURBISHING THE IDOL OF DEATH


From William Stringfellow's article "How My Mind Has Changed" in A Keeper of the Word

“I am not an ideological pacifist, or, for that matter, an ideological person of any species, but, as with the Berrigans, I am persuaded as a Christian that to resort to violence to topple the idol of death in the state and in society invariably results in the idolatry of death in some refurbished form.  This is, in truth, the central, contemporary, theological issue. It is the point at which ethics and eschatology meet, for if the practice of violence, even in the name of revolution, is hopeless, the practice of nonviolence, even where it seems unavailing, represents a most extraordinary hope.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

THE RENT WE PAY

“I was taught that the world had a lot of problems; that I could struggle and change them; that intellectual and material gifts brought the privilege and responsibility of sharing with others less fortunate; and that service is the rent each of us pays for living -- the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals.”
  --Marian Wright Edelman 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

THE GREAT ECONOMY

Wendell Berry points us to toward an economy in which everyone matters

"In the Great Economy all transactions count and the account is never closed. We see that we cannot afford maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner."

"Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a membership of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole."

"It is the Great Economy, not any little economy, that invests minute particulars with high and final importance. In the Great Economy, each part stands for the whole and is joined to it; the whole is present in the part and is its health. The industrial economy, by contrast, is always striving and failing to make fragments (pieces that it has broken) add up to an ever-fugitive wholeness.”


-- Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace