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.