This is what a broken heart looks like.
I was crying on the other side of the camera.
This kid played 8 soccer games in two days, some of them immediately back-to-back and half of them were a 4×4 format where she was constantly running. She scored 15 goals and set up even more amazing assists.
She never expressed frustration toward teammates, she was never anything but friendly to her opponents, and she always played passionately and fairly. And for that, I couldn’t possibly be more proud.
With the exception of only one of the games, I think the parents at this tournament did a really good job being kind and respectful of all of the kids. But, I have experienced far too many games where that wasn’t the case and to those parents who seem to forget who they are taunting, give it a rest. We all get carried away in the excitement of supporting our budding athletes, but in the end, these are kids…let’s try to keep it fun for all of them.
If you haven’t seen this look on your own child’s face, yet, it will forever change you. This was the result of 8 hard fought games culminating in a last second overtime loss in the championship game.
It will change the way you cheer and the way you interact with the kids and parents on the opposing teams.
When your team has the game won before the clock reaches zero, you will remember this face and suddenly you won’t be able to cheer even when your own kid scores an amazing shot on an exhausted and emotionally defeated goalie. Instead, you will find yourself calling out, “Good try, goalie! You are doing awesome!” And you will mean it.
Instead of erupting in cheers each time your kid’s team scores again, your heart will ache for the other kids as their heads hang lower and lower, their legs beginning to drag, their hearts crushed after starting so hopeful.
The physical and emotional exhaustion was visibly apparent to everyone on the sidelines. When that overtime started, my heart hurt for every one of those girls on both teams as they continued to power through without complaints even after falling to the ground repetitively and taking a ball to the side of the face. We all know full well that these same girls are capable of near psychotic break downs over having to help load the dishwasher, but they were out there pushing their bodies to unimaginable extremes.
When the game is over, instead of being a loud and obnoxious soccer mom (or dad or grandparent), you will recall that heartache and want to hug those kids who are trying so hard not to cry. Sure, your team played amazingly well and earned that trophy, but they are all kids and they are all giving it their very best. And some of them aren’t lucky enough to have a parent like you who will still shower them with love and praise even though they could have made some better decisions.
I’ve got a long way to go on this journey of being a soccer mom, but here is what I’ve gathered to be good etiquette at youth sports in general:
1) If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all; not to your kid or anyone else’s child. Want to up your standard? Don’t say anything negative to or about the coaches, refs, or other parents, either. The players and kids on the sidelines are listening and learning from you!
2) Be respectful of an injured child even if you think they aren’t really hurt. Every player should be taking a knee while a potentially injured child is down and everyone on the sidelines should be equally respectful and supportive.
3) Control yourself. In a tight game, this can feel nearly impossible and most of your cheers probably build up your child’s confidence and passion, but don’t forget about the other players. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your child to hear if she were the one getting scored on.
4) Once it is clear that your team is controlling the game, give it a rest. Never forget that these are CHILDREN. Please don’t act like a rowdy drunk guy at a pro football game. Teach your child to be a good sport when they are running away with the game. This can be difficult because at that point, players who may have never scored before are likely to be given a chance at a goal. A mom and dad celebrating that milestone is one thing, but when the other team is already suffering the inevitable loss, a teamful of parents shaking noise makers and yelling is bad sportsmanship. There’s no need to rub it in. Honestly, I think it’s mostly on the coaches to reign things in and avoid a total blow out. Allowing one team to obliterate another is considered to be in poor taste even for most professional sports.
5) Be kind to the opponents on and off the field. Demonstrate good sportsmanship by telling the other kids that they played a great game. Pretend for just a moment that the kid wearing the 2nd place medal is just another sweet kid who could easily become BFFs with your son or daughter.
Both of my older kids learned to play soccer on losing teams. I mean, they lost EVERY game. It became their normal, our normal. We couldn’t let the inevitable loss affect their desire to play and enjoy the game. I decided early on that I’d rather my children experience a losing team before being on a winning team because I believe it builds character and sportsmanship in a way winners can’t understand. And when they do start winning, they appreciate it so much more while also being sympathetic to the other team’s feelings.
This was a hard loss for my daughter, but I am confident that she will continue to mature into an amazing athlete and team player. Seeing her tears of defeat was absolutely crushing, but I am just as proud (if not more so) than any of the parents of those girls who fought so hard to come back to win the championship game in overtime.
And to my beautiful daughter, there is no shame in those tears. That is simply what it looks like to play with all of your heart.