On beating your kid

Today was the last day of the local U-6 soccer league‘s fall season.  We’ve had a great time–the Little Man played, A was a “Soccer Mom” (which is an official title in this league, and not just a quasi-mythical demographic), and I coached.

To commemorate the last day, the league commissioner organized a series of “parents against the kids” games, which were *exactly* as chaotic as you would imagine: 2 or 3 teams of kids (each with 4-10 players) on the field at once, against whatever parents were willing to play.

In our game, a divide quickly emerged between those of us who wanted to compete (albeit in an age-appropriate way, of course), and those of us who wanted the kids to triumph at all costs.  The latter group would get out of the way of better players, set them up in front of the goal, not try to advance the ball etc.  The former group would try half-heartedly to go forward, would take actual shots on goal, and would block the ball where possible (though no one would actually tackle the ball or steal it away from kids, or even kick the ball hard).

It made for a pretty interesting set of exchanges.  We both were firmly in the “compete” camp, on the strength of our knowledge of the Little Man: In games he thinks he’s good at, he despises unearned “victories.”  A goal in a game against people who are trying to help him would be an insult. Plus, the Little Man lost A as a potential ally when she heard him saying to some other kids, “don’t worry if my mom’s playing defense–she’s not mighty.  We can score on her.”  A word to kids: It turns out smack-talking against your mom isn’t a good idea. 🙂

Other parents worried that if their kids’ kicks were blocked by adults, they’d cry.   Some, more reasonably, wanted as many kids as possible to have the chance to score, so as to end the season on a high note.  Still others, even more reasonably, were just out there so there would be enough bodies, and just wanted to keep the ball in play.

Everyone got on fine, of course–in part because none of us who wanted to compete actually cared about *winning*.  (Which, let’s be honest, would be a little disgusting in an U-6 league.*)  But it was interesting to see the variety of different responses, and to imagine what it would be like to raise a kid who didn’t want you to “play for real” when you play.

*And, to be clear: As a coach, my practices emphasize having fun, mutual encouragement, and skills-building.  The kids supply enough competitive instinct, and it would be counterproductive to encourage it in a league where all the “games” are intrasquad scrimmages.   U-6 is about hooking players for the older leagues.

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