At soccer games on Saturday, I’m the dad furthest down the sideline, away from any other parents. I am not chit-chatting with other parents typically, tending to slide in and out unnoticed. While I’m not anti-social, I’m not overly mingle-y during our weekly games.
It’s not that I don’t like the parents I share virtually every weekend with, but with each passing season, I find myself being less “people-y.” Joining in with the friends-off-the-field type of comradery isn’t me. I guess I’m good with the friends I have and don’t feel a pressing need to make more.
Most of the time, how friendly I am on the sidelines does not much matter.
Other times, like on a recent Friday morning, it does.
With no school because of spring break on Friday, Everett, my 10-year-old, agreed to play in a makeup game across town. My wife and I had work responsibilities that day so we sent our little guy with another trusted soccer parent, Kelly.
The game began at 10:30 a.m.
By 10:35, I had missed two calls from Kelly and one from my wife. When my phone rang for the fourth time, I broke from my conference call and picked up.
My wife’s frantic voice didn’t allow me to speak, “You have to get to the hospital now!”
I was confused but assumed whatever was going on centered on the kid outside of our care, Everett.
“I just talked to Kelly,” she said. “Everett broke his arm and dislocated his wrist. She is taking him to E.R. now. He is in a lot of pain. You gotta go.”
My minivan had never cut in and out of traffic like it did that morning. As I sped to meet my ailing little boy, my phone rang again, this time from a fellow sideline dad.
I could tell my son was listening as the other dad began slowly. “Toby, I have Everett right here waiting for a ride to get his arm fixed up,” he said. “He is hurting and scared, so I wanted you to talk to him and tell him that you’ll be here soon, OK?”
For the next few minutes, while speeding down the interstate, this fellow dad and I calmed down my hurting little boy. Then, I heard Kelly’s voice.
“OK, let’s go get you better, Everett. Tell your dad you’ll see him soon!”
I hung up. My mind raced.
Mostly, I felt deep gratitude to those parents standing in for me – the same sideline parents I often shun in favor of a quiet patch of grass on the outskirts of the pitch on any given Saturday. These were parents I’d previously stopped short of calling friends.
Suddenly, the importance of befriending other sideline parents mattered. It mattered A LOT.
It mattered that the other parents at the field with Everett that day treated him as if he was their own.
It mattered that they knew how to break the bad news to me and my wife without freaking us out completely.
It mattered that my son, laying on the ground screaming in pain, could recognize being surrounded by adults he knew and could trust.
It mattered that I knew he was in good, caring hands when I could not be there.
This situation has forever changed the way I’ll think about my fellow parents on any team our kids play on. That day I learned any team he plays on needs to have a similar “I got your back” mentality among the parents watching the game.
That type of sideline comradery does not mean everyone gets along all the time. It does not require getting together socially after the game for beers and wings. Hell, I can even have every parents’ back from my preferred position of solitude on the sideline.
It does mean, though, that every time our kids take the field, we are there for each other and our children.
I felt that sense of community after Everett was stable as I stood at the side of his hospital bed. He and I spent the downtime responding to kind texts about how he was doing from everyone on the team. We FaceTime’d with teammates who left the field scared to death at seeing Everett carried off the field crying. Everett reserved a special place on this new, bright red cast for only his teammates to autograph. I felt so proud as he thanked Kelly and that other dad for making him feel OK in my absence.
These are more than fellow sideline parents, each is an extension of us. Making friends with sideline parents doesn’t matter until it does – even for the most non-“people-y” of parents like me.