For the first 30 years of my life I successfully ignored all team sports. “What a great season we’re having,” meant aren’t the leaves beautiful to photograph in fall or isn’t the powder great for skiing. My interests were in theater, books, music and the arts. My world was populated with terms like, costume change, rehearsal, and tech week. I found the TV’s mute button to be very helpful during televised football games. To my husband’s credit, he joined me at the theater and only fell asleep twice per show – once in the first act and once in the second.
Then we had a child who turned out to be very much like her father. She enjoyed climbing structures, taking physical risks, kicking a ball. It occurred to her father that she might enjoy soccer. I was ambivalent. I hoped she might be in the school play. He signed her up for a co-ed recreational league when she was five. She was more aggressive and substantially more coordinated than many of her teammates – boys or girls. Eventually the co-ed team became just her and the boys. Other parents told me how skilled she was and I thought they just wanted free tickets to the next stage production I was involved in.
Step One: Learn the proper vernacular or keep your mouth shut. I drove her to practice, but frequently called it rehearsal. When she could not find her uniform, I asked where she left her costume. When she asked what color she was, I told her Caucasian. I watched other parents and wondered silently how they knew when to clap, comment or remain silent. There were no obvious cues. I soon learned that when two girls collide, fight for the ball and mine gets pushed down, I should not yell, “Hey watch out! That’s my kid you’re pushing around sister!”
Step Two: Generalize sports concepts to something you already understand. This daughter of mine went on to play competitive soccer with traveling teams. She gently taught me the ropes. Patiently explaining game strategy, player placement, and the completely confounding idea of “off sides.” She scored goals. She assisted in many. She became known for her corner kicks. I began to see team sports in a new light. In many ways, it is a stage production where every player has her role and it comes together as each individual does her part. But on the field, there is no script. One must be flexible and aware. Much like an improv theater experience. I began to see Carly as a player of consequence. A substantial member of her team. Even when she changed teams along the way, she slipped in and made a difference to the overall production based on her ability to judge the game and make good decisions. Trophies and ribbons adorn her room.
Step Three: Associate with others who know the game. In the beginning of my daughter’s career, I was the kind of mom who nearly earned a red card by watching the game from behind the goal. Tip: not cool. I soon learned to sit near parents who had high sports savvy scores. I followed their lead, asked questions. Eventually, I adopted the proper lingo, wore appropriate clothes to the game, brought the right kind of chair.
Actors are chameleons and can learn to adopt any role with hard work and study. Soccer mom was just another role I was cast to play. I have been transformed from a mom who tried unsuccessfully to organize soccer sing-a-longs, to a mom who can use terms like “settle it,” “first to the ball,” “trap it” with confidence.
A latent competitive DNA molecule was emerging in me. I found myself watching professional soccer on television with keen interest. In person, I watched the Stanford women’s soccer team while my daughter was busy running through the bleachers with her friends and missed all the useful pointers I was happily blurting out. She texted her friends on the way home while I cheerfully chatted with myself about the quality of play I had witnessed on the field.
For me to guide my daughter in her future athletic career, I have a lot more to learn: The nuances in soccer style from coast to coast or country to country. Which colleges draw female athletes and offer substantial scholarships? Who are the emerging super coaches for women’s soccer? But there is still time to learn about all that. Right now the seasons are changing and we all know what that means!