We’ve just finished our first foray into the world of youth soccer.
After years of threats, we finally signed our son up to play soccer for the community league. He was initially hesitant, (or pissed, if we’re being real here) but once he was resigned to the idea, he was all-in and his work ethic and dedication was really the star of the show in this whole experience.
Coincidentally, my husband got bamboozled into coaching the team, thrusting us head-first into soccer culture. We couldn’t help but giggle as we remembered the soccer team group photos that adorn my mother in law’s walls of my husband’s team, featuring his dad, (also the soccer coach) circa 1978, in his shorty-shorts, knee-high athletic socks and porn-star facial hair.
Sitting at soccer games every Saturday for the past couple of months–with only intermittent bursts of excitement (mostly cheers of, “Way to try!” “Good hustle” and “OTHER WAY! WRONG GOAL!”)–gave me lots of time to reflect on how our 2017 soccer experience undoubtedly differed from that of my husband’s childhood soccer experiences. While the rules of the game haven’t changed (much) the social rules have changed a lot.
Here are only a few ways that soccer in 2017 differs from soccer in 1978:
The Snacks: My husband has fond memories of the snacks that followed his soccer games. He still speaks of the delicious, fresh orange slices, lovingly cut up by one of the soccer moms (I totally picture Mandy Moore as her character in “This Is us” standing at the kitchen counter cutting up oranges for Kevin and Randall’s soccer games…). And I think that was it: One “Harvest Gold” colored Tupperware bowl full of refreshing orange slices, grabbed at and pawed by 11 grubby-handed little kids–without any hand sanitizer in sight.
My son’s soccer snacks couldn’t be more different. First of all, each week a different parent provides the snack. Now, I’m not sure if the first week’s parents set the bar high and we all blindly followed, or if this is the norm, but the snacks that followed each game this year came in a gallon sized ziploc bag. Inside was typically a piece of organic fruit, a bag of organic (sometimes gluten-free, non GMO) goldfish-type crackers, a protein, such as an organic, antibiotic-free cheese stick and a “dessert” item, such as a small piece of candy or cookie. Accompanying this 4 course meal was a Gatorade pairing (Gatorade “Polar Ice” pairs nicely with goldfish crackers, per my son) or juice box (organic, low-sugar, recycle-able box). All I know is that, when it was time for us to provide the snacks, recreating a similar snack bag for 12 kids cost us about $25 and I wished that I’d had the nerve to bring back the 1978 bowl o’ orange slices.
Water bottles: As I’d sit there at each game, my eyes would drift to the various and sundry water bottles that the parents had with them, as well as those of the players. By and large, everyone in this part of Texas carries some sort of super-insulated Yeti-type of cup to keep our beverages cold in the extreme heat. Most kids have them too. I couldn’t help but think that in 1978 the water drinking options were likely (best case) a questionably rusty sports-field water fountain or (worst case) a garden hose. And that was fine.
Names: I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the names that were being shouted during the games this season. Most Saturdays, it sounded like roll-call at the local nursing home (which I love because I’m a fan of traditional names). “Way to go, Henry!” “Brilliant pass, Amelia!” “Nice block, Mildred”. I would imagine that my husband’s childhood games sounded more like this, “Yeah, Jason!” “Go, Brian!” and “Alright, Kevin!” (with maybe a “Way to go, Jennifer” in there too, provided that girls were allowed to play in this league, which I’m not completely certain that they were).
Talent scouts in the crowd: At the second to last game of my son’s soccer season, there were legit “talent scouts” in the crowd. They were drumming up business for the “select soccer league” and approaching parents of the stand-out players, talking up this select league. I highly doubt this happened in 1978 because I believe that soccer was just that: A means by which kids could burn off some steam, kick each other in the shins and learn to play as a team. Not a gateway to a career in professional soccer.
Phones: I cringed as I watched parent after parent recording whole games on their phones every Saturday. I cringed partly because I can’t fathom having that kind of memory on my phone that would allow the recording of a whole game (because my phone is full of pictures of my cats, of course) but also, so many parents have their phones in their face the whole time, thereby missing the experience and lastly, who are they going to make sit through the viewing of that game later in the weekend? Poor souls. Siblings who are forced to attend the games are the same–sitting there, playing games or texting on their phones. I’m guilty of this too. My daughter would often bring her Kindle with her to her brother’s games and, believe me, it was a lifesaver, but certainly that wasn’t anything that the siblings in 1978 had at their disposal. I suppose siblings in 1978 had to play in the dirt or talk to friends. Boring.
The Uniforms: My son’s uniform probably cost the entire price of the entry fee that we paid to this soccer league. It’s a professional-quality soccer jersey with matching shorts and socks. (Let us not even speak of the soccer cleats that we bought that cost more than most of the shoes in my closet). He loves it so much and takes the responsibility of wearing it with pride very seriously. While my husband’s childhood team had matching uniforms, it looks to me like they consisted of only a basic t-shirt, possibly screen-printed with the name of the local plumber or wrecker service as a sponsor. They most certainly didn’t cost $130 either…
This soccer experience has been fun and brought back lots of memories for my husband. He really stepped up to the plate (so to speak) as coach and my son embraced the sport as well. I have a feeling that this is something that we’ll be doing every year from now on. It has also been a good opportunity for bonding between my son and my husband–much in the same way that he and his own father bonded over the same sport (albeit with slightly different social protocol–and slightly longer men’s coaching shorts) so many years ago.