In the midst of our raging political climate, it’s tempting to see everything through red and blue glasses.
All week, I race between drop-offs, pick-ups and cheering on the sidelines of my twins’ soccer and my son’s football games. The two sports (like our political parties) are built on fundamental ideological differences and provide some interesting metaphors.
Bouncing between the distinctly different crowds of parents has been a boost to my patriotism. This season, I’m proud to be an American with a choice between two capable presidential candidates, and I also enjoy choices during superfluous extracurricular kid activities to cheer or complain, support or surrender, conform or create havoc.
This all came to light on a recent evening during football practice. Several parents had spread blankets on the sidelines of the grassy field. Some were reading, some feeding younger children snacks, while others were watching every movement of the coaches and kids on the field.
I was typing on my laptop while my 5-year-old swung on the drooping branches of a massive weeping willow. My attention looped between my computer screen, my swinging daughter and my son who had a chance to carry the ball when all of a sudden drama erupted between an angry mother and her sobbing son.
With her back to me, I couldn’t hear every word of her phone conversation, but she was obviously complaining about the treatment of her rookie 9-year-old.
In our community league, fourth-graders are drafted and remain on that same football team for the next three years. The older experienced boys are starters and team leaders; the younger ones learn a lot of patience as they attain the rank of a “scrub” and sit on the sidelines more than expected. Team pride is ingrained and perpetuated, but things aren’t always “fair.”
“What is wrong with these coaches,” the mother screamed in the phone. “Why don’t they give every player a chance to pass and run and hit and kick the ball. I did not pay $75 when I registered just so my son could sit on the sidelines and watch!”
I was somewhat empathetic to her frustration since I wished my son got more playing time his first year, but I’m also well-versed in the fundamental concept that every position on the American football field is geared to an individual’s capabilities and stature. Some were born to be an outside linebacker while others train year round so they can handle the ball just right. Individual greatness at every position results in a team’s success, but inevitably, stars do shine.
Football would come to a screeching halt if only a few players walked away in discouragement. From the quarterback to the third string defensive end, all must show up to practice and do their best if the team is to succeed on game day. Players struggling with motivation must decide the definition of their success: the glory, the playing time, the physical fitness or the chance to be a part of a vibrant team.
“I think the problem is that my kid doesn’t go to the same school as these other kids,” the angry mom vented. “We’re not a part of the community so we get overlooked. It’s just not fair.”
Our official team mom passed me as she walked the other way: “She needs to take her kid and go play soccer,” she said, exasperated.
And that’s where I went next.
With grassy fields and end zone goals, soccer and football do have their similarities. However, the philosophy of soccer seems entirely different to me — highly skilled conformity is key.
While I was raised to be a football fan, it wasn’t until my daughters started playing varsity soccer in high school that I loved to watch that sport from start to finish. I had always been frustrated that their soccer league registration cost triple with expensive uniforms that had to be replaced with a new design every year. The league officials justified the cost with expensive, well-trained referees and an abundance of scholarships.
In general, soccer players are uniform in size, speed and agility — which gives my twins a leg up. Endurance and ball handling are required of all on the field, and team unity and communication is supremely important.
My freshman girls are as competitive and dedicated as possible to soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. They are extremely coachable and supportive, but they often rant about frustrations in soccer philosophy as we drive home from practices and games. The emphasis on equal playing time at the risk of affecting the outcome of the game is something they have never fully embraced.
Compared to football parents, the parents of soccer players are just so chill. They don’t question every coach’s substitution or rip the refs because of their field perspective. Of course they cheer, but applause is for the team as a whole and ramps slower with anticipation as the soccer ball flies down the field.
I’m not sure my husband and I fit in either camp perfectly.
Last Saturday, my heart surged with pride when my son helped an opponent up following his slamming tackle. Die-hard football moms might not agree with my pride in sportsmanship.
My husband sticks out like a sore thumb on the soccer sidelines because he paces the field and hollers motivational compliments for individuals. Our daughters have made it known that he must “cease and desist” name calling from the sidelines, and he’s tried to make the proper adjustments.
So amid the crisp autumn air are red and blue camps in every sport and political arena, and that’s the America I cheer for.
P.S. And if you couldn't guess, that means I wholeheartedly support the continuation of the annual BYU/Utah rivalry in every sport.
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