Children's soccer taunts averted for another year
Our twice-annual kids-versus-parents RYSA soccer game was last week, and I am still recovering, both physically and mentally.
Physically, because I am apparently getting too old to show up five minutes before a soccer game, eat a bunch of pizza, then run nonstop for 45 minutes after having not exercised in five months.
Mentally, because this was the game that made us realize that, as parents, we could have lost to a team of 10-year-old boys.
These kid-versus-parent games, usually held on the last practice of the soccer season, have, up until now, mostly ended in ties against my son’s team.
The parents, after taking a dominating lead early on, would ease up and let the kids stage some dramatic comeback.
"It’s adorable! Look at our little children trying so very hard to beat their parents! Their futility is just precious!"
This year, though, the parents were down 2-0 at halftime. And we were trying.
Losing on purpose to our kids is one thing. But this time, the kids were beating us for real, and they knew it. Their tiny trash talking — especially from my son Henry — was taking its toll.
I am, admittedly, relatively competitive. In our last backyard family football game, with a "next score wins it," and with 13-year-old daughter Hadley and I having the ball at midfield, and with wife Lindy regularly biting on my pump fakes, I didn’t think twice about sending my daughter on a double move pattern, pump-faking Lindy into the flat, then lofting the game-winner to a wide-open Hadley. We did, though, try to keep our celebration to a minimum.
I mean, we want our kids to win, but we also want them to earn it.
One day, when Hadley was four or so, Lindy called me at work. I was not at my desk, and she had me paged, which was unusual. I don’t think Lindy had me paged when she’d gone into labor with Henry a year earlier.
Anyway, we had an old Atari 2600 video console set up in the basement, and Lindy and Hadley had been playing. "I think Hadley may be some sort of video game savant," Lindy told me over the phone. "I can’t beat her at Atari basketball."
Naturally, I drove straight home.
Lindy and Hadley were sitting on the basement floor, wiggling joysticks and pushing buttons. Lindy, sweating, lost yet another game.
"That’s like six in a row," she said.
For the next game, I played Hadley. I lost by eight.
"This is amazing!" I said. "Our little girl is an Atari genius!"
Halfway through our rematch, I noticed that, even as I fell behind by a dozen points, my daughter was barely watching the TV screen.
That’s when I checked the settings on the Atari. The game was set to "one-player" mode. Lindy and I had been playing against the computer. Hadley was simply holding the joystick.
I was disappointed that Hadley would not be a professional Atari player. But I was also relieved that, as a grown man, I could still beat my four-year-old daughter at, well, everything.
So, as the nine or so parents stood around during halftime of the soccer game, and as the kids ran — ran! — to their coach for more pizza, we knew we needed a strategy.
(Full disclosure: "Stood around" may be overstated — a few of us were lying on the field exactly where we’d been when the whistle blew.)
We gathered up. We game-planned.
We said things like "Once you get past midcourt, kick the ball to the right flag thing, and we’ll forecheck hard in the corners" and "If you can set the pick-and-roll I’ll run a fly pattern down the foul line" and "If one of us gets close, they should try kicking the ball into that big netty thing."
None of us knew much about soccer.
But, for one marvelous half, we came together as only a team of parents who don’t want to be taunted by our kids on the drive home can.
We hustled, we blocked kicks, we centered passes. I may or may not have pushed two kids down on the way to scoring the game-tying goal. For my goal celebration, I considered tearing my shirt off and sliding on my knees across the grass, but it was a bit chilly out and, instead, I decided to go lie down behind our net.
We made our comeback, and won 3-2.
The kids, after the game, ran — ran! — for more pizza, and the parents walked slowly to our cars, basking in the glow of what could be our last, glorious win.