Since February, my husband and I have been doing the “this is the last soccer game ever” tour. Our 22-year-old is wrapping up his final season as manager/coach/keeper for his university’s club team before graduating, and so this spring, we’ve traveled to watch him play.
Before we started on this shared journey, I had only “played” soccer in gym. This was in Virginia during the first years of Title IX, the amendment abolishing sex discrimination in education, when my P.E. class seemingly suddenly became co-ed.
The previous fall, I’d enjoyed field hockey (a sport that simply didn’t exist in central Texas) with the girls in my 8th-grade class; in the spring, we took on track and field, volleyball. I enjoyed the activity.
But once in high school, gym class was integrated, which basically relegated us girls to the sidelines while the boys played. I participated very little and learned absolutely nothing about soccer (or basketball, for that matter). That spring semester, my family moved back to football-obsessed Texas, where marching band counted as high school P.E. credit, completely eliminating any real school physical activity. I never “played” soccer again.
As a parent interested in supporting gender equality, I encouraged my oldest child to sign up for a team sport, and in kindergarten, she picked soccer. She hated the running and lasted only one season…but her toddler brother loved the games — sometimes escaping our grasp, sprinting onto the field in hot pursuit of the ball, to the amusement of all. When he turned 4, we signed him up for the YMCA’s basic youth soccer program.
For the next 18 years, I was thoroughly invested.
I became a soccer mom.
The only other positions in my life I have held longer are mother and wife. There was no way I could’ve anticipated the laundry list of activities involved:
Supporting school teams, club teams. Learning positions (keeper, defensive midfielder). Accommodating soccer hairstyles and finding the right shoes, balls, kits. Preparing halftime and postgame snacks of iced Capri Sun pouches, orange slices, Popsicles, the right color of Gatorade. Managing booster clubs, fundraising activities. Calling coaches, registering for teams, attending college information meetings. Living the ups and downs of tournaments, season championships, team tryouts. Sitting through hours and hours of games, sometimes in the worst weather imaginable. Washing uniforms in hotel rooms. Gasping at injuries, racing to meet the cart on the way to the locker room, overseeing doctor’s appointments, rehab. Making grilled cheese sandwiches to stave off hunger between school and practice. Napping in the car at the end of the day, waiting. Juggling schedules like an air traffic controller. Cleaning shoes, Febreeze-ing shin guards, corralling balls. Navigating tricky relationships between parents, players, coaches, administrators. Driving — to practices, games, tournaments, clinics, team parties, private lessons — in town and far away, alone, with my son, with groups of boys. Finding just the right vantage point on the sidelines, locating unfamiliar fields. Cheering until my voice was gone, holding my tongue over a bad call.
Over the years, I’ve grown to see the beauty in the game.
More importantly, I’ve cherished the time with my boy.
Getting quizzed over names of Premier League players, teams. Hearing explanations of calls, plays, line-ups. Listening to analysis of new strategies. Watching game videos, replays on YouTube, match summaries. Celebrating good moments (making the team/stop/goal/win) and comforting after the bad. Seeing him grow from ball-obsessed toddler to gangly-legged teen to confident adult. Delighting in his physical command of the game, the cameraderie between teammates, his acceptance and management of responsibility.