I was second-guessing my decision before the first practice ended.
As soon as I got home, I told my wife I wasn’t sure if this was going to work.
Growing up, I never played soccer. To this day, I’ve never even been to a game. Sure, I’ll tune in to the World Cup every four years, pull for the U.S. National Team, and enjoy the festivities. But aside from that, soccer is near the bottom of my sports interests.
So, of course, it made perfect sense that I not only sign my 3-year-old son up for soccer this spring, but also volunteer to be an assistant coach on his team.
I had it all figured out. Soccer is the perfect sport to introduce toddlers to athletics. You give them a ball and they run around with their new friends. In my head, this youth soccer experience would be the start of my son’s Hall of Fame professional sports career, and I would be right there on the sidelines coaching him.
Dad excited to coach, his son …
As men, as soon as we find out we’re having a son, we immediately start dreaming up scenarios in which we can have father-son bonding moments through activities we enjoyed growing up, often with our own dads. I vividly remember my dad as a coach for my pee wee football team. When he wasn’t coaching, he and other dads were right there in the bleachers and along the sidelines at nearly every game all the way through high school. It set a precedent I knew I wanted to follow with my own son.
When it was time to start with my child, I was more excited than my son. He had zero concept of what soccer actually was. He just knew we got to go to a park and run around with other kids his age. That was the exciting part for him.
As I attempted to “coach” him, I would soon learn the line between coach and dad would be a hard one for him to understand at his young age. I was Daddy. Who were these other kids I was showing what to do? Why was I talking differently than how I did at home? Why are you even out here? It was interesting to observe.
To his credit, my son locked in when the head coach spoke. It was similar to how he is at swimming class and daycare. He listens to his teachers. But when I’m around, naturally his entire demeanor changes.
I’ve described the soccer experience to date as “up and down.” One practice, he’ll be into it, participating in the drills and such. The next, he’ll be more interested in picking up pieces of grass and playing in the dirt. The irony is that after every practice he says he had fun and immediately asks if we can do it again.
It was clear the problem was not him, it was me.
Adjust and accept
Could I be a coach and be a dad to a toddler who is being introduced to a whole new world? Could I put my unrealistic expectations on hold and let him just enjoy himself?
Initially, I couldn’t. And that was evident at a practice in which my son went into full meltdown mode. Falling out, screaming, and just refusing to cooperate. We’ve all been there. I was stuck between frustration and embarrassment.
I quickly realized I wasn’t angry at him. My anger came from the vision in my head not coming to fruition.
Oftentimes, our vision for what we want our experience as dads to be is smacked in the face by the realities of life. It sometimes just doesn’t work out how we want. This is not to say we shouldn’t have plans and dreams. We just need to be mentally prepared to accept when those plans don’t work out.
It was a hard pill to swallow, but that realization made me step back and look in the mirror. I had to change my approach to what I wanted this experience to be.
Maybe that’s the lesson I need to learn during this soccer experience. When I look at my son, he’s having a blast doing his version of soccer, no matter how frustrating it is for me at times. At the end of the day, this season will be about creating lifelong memories.
That will mean more than any goal he’ll ever score.