In the past, I have referred to myself ironically as a “soccer mom.” Both my kids have played soccer, and one of them still does.
I say ironically, though, because it’s not a natural fit for me. Growing up, I never played any team sports. I was 2 years ahead of my school classmates and graduated high school when I was 16. I’m also old enough that there weren’t as many opportunities for girls to play youth sports back then. When talking, or even thinking, about why I didn’t play team sports, I tend to emphasize those aspects of the experience–that I was younger and smaller than everyone else, that there was sexism–with the fond hope in the back of my mind that if I had grown up in a different time or place, things might have been different for me too.
But that’s debatable. Furthermore, the past is the past. We’ll never know whether I could have successfully played a team sport as a kid. All I have is now. When I was in my mid-20’s, in graduate school, I went skiing in Lake Tahoe. I remember riding up the ski lift with a woman who told me that she was there because, for her 50th birthday, she had learned to ski. I also remember thinking something like, “wow, good for her, she’s still doing new things and putting herself out there at such an advanced age!” Well, I apologize now for any internal condescension I might have felt. Because here I am now, a few months before my own 50th birthday, learning to play soccer.
Before the move to CA, I felt I needed to make sure that my 12-year-old son had some activities outside of school when he got here. He played soccer in Belmont so I looked online for a soccer team. I found a couple: AYSO region 45 in Mountain View, and a private competitive league. Of those, AYSO seemed to be the most like what we were used to: a reasonably priced, recreational town league that competes with neighboring towns and has boys and girls divisions. And, just like back in Belmont, it was run by a small number of super-dedicated and amazing volunteers who had way too much to do. Furthermore, registration was already over and my son was on the wait list. I emailed the competitive team and let them know we were interested. But then, a few weeks later, I got a familiar-sounding email from AYSO: “Help, we need coaches!” And if you agree to coach, your child is guaranteed a spot on a team. I decided to do it.
Fast Forward a few months, and practices have started. My son’s team has bright yellow uniforms and is called the Wasps. I’m an Assistant Coach under a British Head Coach, Coach David, who likes to use words that sound like they are straight out of Harry Potter: striker, sweeper, stopper, keeper. (In Belmont, we just called the players forwards, midfielders, and defenders.) And he’s very experienced. Which is good, because our team has two assistant coaches, both of us moms with kids on the team, neither of us with soccer experience.
There are two major ways in which my soccer experience has been different here so far. The first is that individual teams have to paint the fields.
You mean fields don’t just magically paint themselves? Oh, right, this isn’t Quidditch. You use one of these little machines, put in a spray can, and follow the lines that someone else (hopefully) laid down last week. When I got to the field, there were still some people playing, but they understood what we needed to do, and let us have at it: three parents rolling these carts around in the fading twilight. One of the coaches on the field who didn’t know me even took the trouble to thank me for doing this, and he reminded me to be sure to paint the penalty spot. “That often gets forgotten!” It was fun. And it gives you a better idea of where all the lines are and how far they are from each other. I will also note that the school where this field is, which my son does not attend, is within walking distance of our house. Unlike the school he does attend. Such is the crazy school districting in CA.
The other aspect that is different from what I did before is the training classes. In Belmont I assisted too, and I got occasional emails about the existence of coaching classes but no one checked up if I took them or not, and I decided that I was too busy. Here, if you volunteer it’s required that you sign up and take a training class appropriate to your level. There was one on Labor Day weekend. When I signed up it seemed very far away, and “it’ll be good for me,” I thought. But as Labor Day approached, I got nervous. “Any plans for Labor Day weekend?” people were asking. “Uh . . . yeah.”
The weekend dawned and it soon became “so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Or maybe an EGBOPP. That was one of the many acronyms that they gave us so that we could remember equally many lists: lists of attacking principles, defending principles, mission statement, vision statement, red cards, yellow cards, laws of the game. It was a little like being back in high school. I even made flash cards, because there was a test at the end.
I chose to highlight that particular acronym here, because that is the acronym for the AYSO philosophies, which I think are worth memorizing, and repeating: Everybody Plays, Good Sportsmanship, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching, and Player Development.
I support all of those philosophies and think they apply equally well to other youth sports and activities. So it’s an organization I’m proud to support and be involved with. I hope keeping these philosophies in mind can help me be a better educator wherever I am involved with youth. This is not the impression I had of most youth sports/activities when I was growing up. Everybody plays? Player Development for all players, even the less talented? Not really. Some things do appear to have changed for the better.