The discussion of the GOAT is always tough because it brings apples against oranges and people’s personal perspective weighs heavily on their arguments. The comparison of Messi vs Ronaldo could be a more objective conversation but adding Pele into the mix makes things much more difficult. Considering different eras and playing landscapes muddies the waters to the point where the argument says more about what the fan values rather than what the player meant in their own time. With all of those points well established from the outset, I am not at all bashful about nominating my mom as the Youth Soccer Fan GOAT! This is not a son’s love for his mother taken to the extreme. In fact, I thought my mother was one of the worst fans at the time but given years to evaluate and compare, she truly was the best.
She didn’t know the game! Some people might view this as a negative but it was a huge positive. Her best things to say from the sideline were “Kick the ball!” and “Go!” She didn’t know enough about the game to yell at the referee or opposing parents. I’m not sure that she even really took them into account. She was supremely focused on our (my brother and my) team. Despite being our parent, she cheered “Kick the ball!” for anyone on our team. Her support never wavered, even in the season where we lost every single game.
She told everyone except the coaches! I’m being serious. Everyone knew about my brother and I. Toll booth operators, people working at Wendy’s, cute girls at tournaments and many more complete strangers heard about how her sons played for the “Taygers”. We played for the “Tigers” but she always seemed to have this special pronunciation when talking about it. She sang our praises up and down the east coast even out of season. However this overwhelming promotion of her kids never reached the coaches. It was before the internet was pervasive but it didn’t happen by phone, letter or fax either. She knew better.
She always clapped at the end! Now this is not an individual thing. It was a team effort. I was lucky enough to play together with a lot of the same guys through my youth and into high school. That collective group of parents would always clap for my teammates and I upon leaving the field. The result didn’t matter. I’d like to believe that they were clapping our effort because I think we always gave that, even in the lean years.
At the time I probably took all of this for granted but now as a coach and a parent, I don’t. My view may be skewed and my mother is not actually the GOAT but she definitely was great for my time. My time as a player was better because of her. She reflected only her love for me as her son. The result of every single game was the same whether we won or lost, my mom was still my biggest fan. I think that’s something that we’re missing today. I’ve heard the words “My mom/dad is going to be so ___________.” far too often from players. Parents need to be the North Star to a child, not a feather in the wind. Even if a parent is trying to raise an elite athlete, their love should not be on the line every match. There are more than enough people around to show a child how to play the game. Parents are the first ones that can show the child how much they matter regardless of the game.
It was a big deal! I remember it very plainly. My parents, brothers and I would all sit down with popcorn and watch “The Wizard of Oz”. It was an annual occasion. The movie is definitely a classic but I think that the ritual and nostalgia factor make it a little more important for me. Despite being released in 1939, the story stands the test of time. A young girl has a magical adventure that ends up being a dream but she learns that her search to distant lands led her back to the home and people that really mattered in the first place. Most of the things that she desired or feared ended up being fake or easily defeated.
As the spring soccer season continues, I am inundated with emails about tryouts, camps and recruiting services. It is not a new thing that is unexpected. However following many discussions that I’ve had with members of my own club, I’m left wondering if the modern American soccer culture isn’t a lot like Dorothy. Are we searching for something that is hollow and the truest prize is in our own backyard?
It is tryout season and clubs throughout my area will be selecting the best talent they can find. Then they will pair that talent up with a paid trainer in order to improve upon that talent. (Full disclosure I am a paid trainer) Games will be won and lost over the course of the year. Then the cycle will repeat. The teams and players will progress down the yellow brick road toward what exactly? The best of the best will be professionals. The second tier will play in college. The rest will either fizzle out along the way or play in a recreational type setting for as long as they enjoy it (love men’s and women’s leagues!). So is it really that a majority of us are hoping that our kids get to that promised land of professional or college that we’ve created this monster system? Or is it that we’ve forgotten where we are and where we’re going? My fear is that in a few more years many people are going to find the little man behind the curtain and be shocked.
Soccer is an inherently simple game that has so much to offer to the people who play and watch it. The positives that it offers to young players are generally intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Physical fitness, self-confidence and camaraderie just to name a few. None of these positives require talent, tryouts or trainers, OH MY! In fact all three may inhibit the expansion of these intrinsic positives because they are all short term. Talent is relative and momentary. Tryouts make players commodities first and people second. Trainers are generally interested in the short-term improvement of skills in a very selective area. It is not that these things are without their place. However they should not be the silver bullets that are used to propel our young players forward. If the vast majority of youth soccer players are not going to end up in the top two tiers of involvement, then should we (the adults) be building the yellow brick road? Or finding our way back to Kansas?
My beliefs is that the solution is on the horizon if enough people are willing to look for it. It all comes down to focus. If the focus is put and maintained on the idea of making our kids great people first, then we all win regardless of the outcomes on Saturdays/Sundays. Do we have to pay for that service? Most likely not. It takes involvement and time from the adults who truly care about the kids. My father coached my teams for year and his soccer knowledge, at the time, came from books. The game has progressed since then but so has the knowledge of the parents and accessibility to information. Since the focus is not on game results, tryouts might go away or be held every two or three years. That way the team gets to be “a team”. Finally what will happen to the talent of our players? Won’t their soccer skills drop if we no longer employ these improvement strategies. For the long term, does it matter? Off the field, my soccer skills have saved a few glass bottles from breaking. Other than that, the non-soccer skills have been far more important. Learning how to lead, fitness, problem solving and self-improvement are all practical skills that were honed on the field. In the short term, there are other ways to improve one’s soccer skills without expensive trainers. It’s called practice! Kids are extremely adept at using YouTube to figure out many things. Perhaps watch that video with the child and go into the backyard to practice.
In ten years will we not know our extremely talented former soccer players? Or will we have a self-reliant young person that we can relate to who was OK at the kicking game? There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
See you on the field!