A few Sundays ago I attended the last game between my son’s “youth” soccer team, the Calverton Patriots and their perennial rival, the DC Stoddert Blue Lightning. To call them “rivals” conjures visions of an Ohio State-Michigan football game, a soccer “derby” between Liverpool and Everton, or for Washingtonians – Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps in the past when both teams were fighting for promotion (or to avoid relegation!), the feelings on the pitch or among the parents was more intense. That Sunday it felt more like a rite of passage. The game presented players and parents with no higher divisions to strive towards, no dreams of college scholarships, no concerns about playing time (at this point just getting players to show up is more the challenge), and no additional bragging rights to be delivered at school or work on Monday. On this somewhat rare weekend, the boys could just play a game they love and their parents could take in the simple pleasure of watching their sons in one of a few games left before a new phase in their lives begins.
Both coaches and the core of players on each team have been together since middle school (some longer). Even the names - “Blue Lightening” and “Patriots” - reflect names concocted by pre-adolescent boys, not the young men now playing in a U-19 division. The game was well attended by parents of both teams. That’s somewhat unusual these days as the players have moved from their own parents driving them, to carpools, and now driving themselves to games and practice. My wife, who is not a fan of sports in general (but enjoys reading opinion pieces about sports in the New York Times) even attended recognizing that "there are not many more games for me to miss!”
Heading into this final game of a league series that dates to back to November 2, 2008, the Blue Lightening led by one game and just a single goal (I am not a fanatic, it was on the league website in the archived scores section). The past record mattered not a great deal to the players, coaches, or parents who seemed to approach the game in a state of almost Zen-like peacefulness facilitated by the bucolic expanse of the Soccerplex in Boys, MD. The players competed hard, but were respectful to each other and the officials – perhaps recognizing the moment in a way that teenagers rarely do. The coaches, Josh Menditch (Patriots) and Evans Malyi (Blue Lightening) acted as they always have in so many past contests – sitting calmly on the bench and occasionally offering tactical instructions to players. The parents watched the game, but mostly chatted among themselves about college plans, job gossip, and only infrequently yelled out “good job!” or ever so tepidly complained to the official about an off-side or foul call.
As we sat on the side of the hill in our folding chairs, sipping Dunkin Donut’s coffee and watching the game, I couldn’t help but feel wistful for a phase of our son’s life and ours now coming to a close. Our son plans to continue playing soccer in college (Division III, where the cost is “included” in the price of tuition), but it will be very different. Conveniently "miss-remembering" the cattle call try-outs, the team cuts, the occasional injury, and the many ruined weekends given over to meaningless tournaments in remote locations, soccer has been a wonderful platform to carry our son through what can be turbulent years (are there any non-turbulent years?). It also connected us as father and son as soccer was something we learned together (him to play, me to watch and appreciate) and will have the rest of our lives to discuss, argue, and reminisce.
Last week I stood on the sidelines of my younger son’s middle school soccer game. As the boys ran up and down a field that resembled a lunar surface, the chatter among parents was about past and upcoming weekend club games, problems with coaches, academy training opportunities, and other related topics that tend to feed the anxieties. Instructions and personally delivered words of encouragement were dutifully shouted from the sidelines (“Toes up," yelled one parent to his goal keeping son. Whatever that means.) and dutifully ignored by the boys. Instead of being nervous about my own son’s prospects, I felt a certain calmness and appreciation for the moment knowing that there’s going to be a “final” game for him - and me - in a few years. Like my older son’s game, his will probably end 0-0 too for soccer being a game where success can be claimed without having to win.
Todd Miller is the Founder of flyburst.