I have a confession.
It bothers me that my daughter isn’t a stellar soccer player.
Further, it bothers me that it bothers me that my daughter isn’t a stellar soccer player.
I’ll give you a minute to process those two statements.
When I delivered a beautiful baby girl almost eight years ago, I had a vision for what I wanted for her life. I prayed for health, happiness, and spiritual wisdom (hers and ours). I definitely didn’t have any strong desire for my daughter to play sports. Why? Because I didn’t play sports. In fact, I have no hand-eye coordination (or foot-eye coordination, for that matter) and early on I found my sweet spot in more creative endeavors and never looked back.
My husband, on the other hand, played every sport under the sun. To him, there was no doubt our little girl would be a natural athlete. Of course, the decision about what activities she wanted to pursue wasn’t up to us, so we waited for her to develop her own interests. Now, she really enjoys dance, has played one season of basketball, and excels in school. We are so very proud of her accomplishments.
And then there’s soccer.
Frankly, soccer stresses me out. The first year she played would have been comical if her teammates weren’t already so skilled. I expected to watch five-year-olds twirling on the soccer field, but instead I spent the entire year watching intense games while pretending her lackadaisical approach didn’t bother me. But it did. She stood around, played with her hair, approached the ball only when the Mars and Jupiter aligned, and looked forward to the post-game snacks far more than the actual games. I was relieved when the season came to an end and I asked her if she wanted to keep playing. I expected her to acknowledge that soccer might not be “her thing” and I secretly hoped she would want to move on to something else.
She wanted to keep playing. She loved soccer.
The second year was a little better and she started to play with a sense of purpose. She made her first goal and I may or may not have shed a tear. The upward trajectory was short-lived, however, and she began to regress. My husband and I were frustrated and threw around phrases about “not applying yourself” and others we heard from our parents and vowed never to utter to our own children. At the end of the season, I asked her if she wanted to keep playing. Again, I secretly hoped she would ask to try something else instead.
And again she wanted to keep playing. She loved soccer.
So here we are nearing the end of her third full year of soccer. Most people say, “it’s only a game” but it’s also very difficult to watch your child struggle at said game. I hate watching her try so hard and still completely miss the ball or never get the ball at all. I hate listening to the exasperation in her coach’s voice when he addresses her during the games. I hate listening to the exasperation in my own voice, and that of my husband’s, when we call out to her from the sidelines. And I hate not knowing how I’m supposed to handle the post-game talk. If I don’t address her performance at all, I feel like I’m doing her a disservice. If I come down hard on her, I’m not adhering to the philosophy that youth sports are supposed to be fun.
I do not wish to protect my children from failure. I believe kids need to learn to fall down and pick themselves up again without a parent constantly doing all they can to make the path easy. I also know that’s a lot easier said than done! I recently read a Native American legend that illustrates the unintended consequences of intervening when we think we know best. I include the story here as a reminder (to me and others) that parenting is a journey and sometimes the easiest path is not always the right path.
A man watched a butterfly as it fought to emerge from a small hole in its cocoon. For severalhours the butterfly struggled to force its body through a small hole. The man couldn’t stand watching the struggle and decided to help the butterfly by carefully enlarging the hole. The butterfly quickly emerged from the cocoon, but with a swollen body and shriveled wings. What the man didn’t realize was that the butterfly needed to struggle through the small opening in order to force the fluids from its body into its wings so that the wings would be strong enough to fly. Skipping this important step made the butterfly weak and he was never able to fly.
If I made things “easy” for my daughter by encouraging her to quit something that is a struggle for her, perhaps I would be depriving her of the opportunity to learn how to fly. I’m trying to learn to support my daughter’s goals regardless of her performance. I’m trying to embrace her tenacity and resilience. Each challenge she faces will mold her into a better version of an already-special little girl. Further, just because I define something as a challenge doesn’t mean she sees it the same way….and that’s okay. In fact, it’s kind of beautiful.
My vow going forward is to support her as long as she wants to play soccer. I remind myself of the vision I had for her life when she was born. I said I wished for health, happiness, and spiritual wisdom. It occurs to me that playing soccer – not being great at soccer – makes her happy. Playing soccer also keeps her healthy. And perhaps the fact that she has never given up and continues to persevere is evidence of that wisdom I wished for her to possess.
As it turns out, she’s accomplishing these goals through soccer whether she ever makes a real goal or not. Friends, this is my version of the perfect hat trick.