Ahhh, yes. The age-old challenge of balancing your child’s need for activities that nurture her understanding of discipline and teamwork with your desire to have a life.
When I hear about how other parents rearrange their lives so that their children can play soccer, I feel a little bit of dread. I know kids these days have extracurricular activities that equal a full-time job, and I want to avoid that for as long as possible. People tell me that my daughter has to play soccer, take a dance class, take music lessons, or get her lil’ pilot’s license. It’s overwhelming what’s available to kids at such a young age, and it’s easy to feel bad that I’m squashing her potential by having her in zero classes.
I agree that she needs to be involved in and learn stuff, but I disagree with most parents at what age that should start and how many things children should be involved in at a time. I don’t want a future for my family that involves a constant shuttling to activities. What would that life be like, and would anyone enjoy it? Couldn’t one learn teamwork and discipline from one class for a few weeks every year? Or by watching The Mighty Ducks a lot?
My husband and his siblings were enrolled in a lot of sports as kids. I’m not sure they attended school because of the swim team commitments they all had (he assures me they did). Meanwhile, I was casually involved in things. I was a Girl Scout for two years, killed it in the softball outfield for a few years (by “it” I mean “some gnats”), and was involved in various clubs and publications in high school. All of my activities were low-maintenance and low-cost, and my parents had to make very little effort for any of them.
I don’t feel like I’m at any less of an advantage than people my age who were booked with extracurriculars until the minute they graduated college. My husband definitely did better than me in school, but we still ended up in the same place (except he can do more than doggy paddle and gets to have a cool Eagle Scout belt buckle–they don’t give those out to kids for marathon-watching Saved by the Bell after school).
We both want what all parents want for their daughters: that she play lead guitar in a Pearl Jam cover band (also acceptable: drums). How she gets the discipline and motivation to achieve that goal will most likely be tied into being involved in activities that require mental, physical, and–womp womp–time commitments. At age two, when her peers were getting signed up for teams, I didn’t see the point. Once she turned three, I started to see youth soccer for what it was: exercise during the winter when her outdoor time is limited.
Last month we took our daughter to a party at the Sports Center of Richmond (SCOR). A young coach spent about an hour leading the kids through several games on the soccer field, and it looked like they were having a lot of fun. But our daughter wasn’t really following instructions. When all the other kids were practicing kicking a ball into the goal, ours just straight up ran from one side of the field and into the wall on the other side. On purpose.
During cake time, my husband and I read through the brochure for classes. The winter soccer classes already started, but SCOR allows late registration at a prorated cost ($14.50 per class, plus the annual membership). When the classes were back in session after a holiday break, I signed her up for Cottontails, a Lil’ Kickers class for 2.5–3.5-year-olds that lets the parents/caregivers on the field–I wasn’t sure what her comfort level would be without us involved.
Throughout the 50-minute class, the coaches keep the kids busy with fun activities that aren’t so much soccer-related as soccer-equipment related. They stack cones, play “Red Light/Green Light,” kick balls in the goals, and play other games that involve listening skills, motor skills, and (my favorite) cleaning up skills. The activities are switched up every week, so each class isn’t the same. And the class involves a lot of running (for the adults, too).
The benefits were obvious right away. Each class is led by one or two coaches, and both of ours have been young women. And although they’re sweet with the kids, they are not there to babysit. Our daughter will be going to preschool soon, so listening to teachers and coaches is an important lesson to learn. As of now, if the coach tells her something, she does it (eventually). Other plusses: being around kids her own age and skill set who share a common goal; burning off some energy; and learning that the other kids are working on the same task and did not take her ball/knock over her cone/make her fall on purpose. And at the end they get hand stamps! She was pretty wiped out after her first class, and when we got home, she declined lunch and went to her room to put herself down for a nap, two hours ahead of schedule.
While I cringe at the idea that in ten years my daughter’s soccer (or any sport) commitments could take up entire weekends, I love the idea of her getting excited about being physically active and learning new skills. Our short experience with having her in a class has been rewarding, and as long as she wants to go, I can see us taking her. Plus, there isn’t a sweeter or more hilarious sight than a bunch of two- and three-year-olds hanging around together in little soccer uniforms.
Photo by: chipgriffin
Our daughter initially had a hard time getting the “no hands” concept of soccer, and at one point was on all fours, butting the ball with her head. ↩