Standing on the sidelines and hoarse from yelling, I watched the ball hit the upper 90-degree area of the goal. The ref blew his whistle three times, and the crowd flooded the field. With what little voice I had left, erupted in yells. As I stood with people running all around me, my eyes watched my son jumping and yelling with teammates. They were now champions.
In a small one-bedroom apartment in Queens, NY, I took 3 balls out of a package. I lined up a basketball, a baseball, and a soccer ball in front of my baby boy. I said, “Which ball do you want?” With his hands and knees thumping on the floor, he reached for the soccer ball and immediately began rolling it around. I sat him up and rolled the ball to him. After a few tries, he understood what I was doing and rolled it back. I had no idea at that moment soccer would dominate our lives for the next 17 years.
From the early moments of his life, a soccer ball accompanied us everywhere we went. Our trunk always had a plethora of soccer equipment. Balls constantly rolled around our home. We moved from a one-bedroom apartment in Queens to a more spacious house. This meant more space to drag soccer balls around. In our small NYC backyard, I put up cones for him to practice dribbling. Playing sports with him was a daily activity.
When he was four, I picked up a flyer for soccer lessons and we signed him up. Every Saturday morning, I sat on the sideline and watched him in his soccer class. I knew he had skills early on because he was always the first to the ball and took it seriously. While other kids were playing around, he was focused on what the coach was telling the class.
A year later, a friend of ours told us about a CYO soccer league that they were signing up their kid for and we jumped on the opportunity. Once again, he showed at an early age that with his combined God-given talent and hard work; he was a force to be reckoned with. Then, a couple of years later, I was asked to become his team’s coach.
That first practice, I loaded up my trunk with the soccer equipment and secured my son in his car seat. We drove to the soccer field, and I gave him a rundown of some things we were going to work on. By the field, I met the other parents and gave them my coaching philosophy. I was more interested in developing good people than talented players. And good people make a great team. Half of that team was like my son and wanted to be pushed to become an outstanding player. The other half was there for something to do. That was a challenge.
Coaching my son from the sidelines was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m not sure if he felt the same way. I was tougher on him than the other players. I held him to a higher standard and for that, I’ll always hold a tremendous amount of guilt. I wouldn’t trade the thousands of hours I spent running up and down the sidelines for anything. Twice during the week and at least one day on the weekend, I was coaching my son. He was the first one at every practice and the last one to leave.
When he was 13, I realized my son needed a better coach. I believe I was a good coach for the team that I had, but he needed someone with more knowledge and abilities than what I could teach. And so, I let him play in a more competitive league while still playing on my team. The understanding was that my team had priority if there were any schedule conflicts. At the end of the season, he was doing too much. And so, I called an end to my coaching career and went all-in with his new club. It was sad to say goodbye to coaching, but it was time to hang up the whistle.
For his new club, I was back to being just a dad on the sidelines. A very loud dad, but, just a dad. His new team offered great coaching, and every player was serious about soccer. Not only was the league competitive, but the players competed with one another. At first, he was a quiet member of his team, but soon rose to become a major player and eventually captain. He had the respect of his teammates, the coaches, and the parents. I always held an enormous amount of pride when someone would walk up to me and give my son a compliment while I waited for him to leave the pitch.
And then high school started. Before his first scrimmage, I gave him what I thought was a pep talk. I was afraid he would get discouraged if he got little playing time, which wasn’t something he was used to. Before the game, I told him it’s uncommon for freshmen to get a lot of time on the pitch. That he’ll need to maximize his minutes when he gets to play. I even said there’s a chance he might not even get into a game the entire season and he should support his team the best way he can. As I walked towards the field for that first scrimmage, I noticed my son warming up with the starting 11. The same way he would do for the next 4 years.
In that first scrimmage, he was a member of the starting team with wide eyes. At the end of his senior season, he was a captain, received all-league honors, and helped lead his team to win the championship. That’s a pretty great high school career.
Soccer has dominated our lives. The game isn’t just a sport we enjoy or follow, it’s a way of life. At least, it was. Until the whistle blew 3 times, our schedules revolved around practices and games. Every soccer parent knows that feeling of realizing you haven’t done laundry and there’s a game the next day. Soccer affected every day. But after those 3 whistles, there’s a lot more time on our hands. The saddest part, though, is the realization that my son will soon be gone. Soccer was a bonding experience for us and now, that won’t be there. I’ll no longer shout out praises and suggestions from the sidelines. No more post-game hugs or pats on the back. No more celebratory stops at his favorite restaurant after a hard-fought win.
This is parenting. We (parents) show up for a short while and give everything we have to our kids. If it’s their activity, it’s ours. And we support them. Showering them with opportunities to become better. And then it’s over. We’re left with memories and the bond that was made stays forever. 17 years of running to soccer events has ended. Saying, “goodbye” to soccer was saying goodbye to my son’s youth. Even though I’m in mourning for that loss, I am excited for him as we wait to say, “hello” to what’s next.
Oh, never mind. Sorry about all that rambling. I’ve got two more kids with plenty of soccer playing time left.
Read these soccer stories:
Coaching Champions in the Midst of Angry Parents
10 Things Coaches want Parents to Know
Being a Role Model: Interview with the US Women’s National Soccer Team
Coaching After a Loss