Soccer It To Me

Confession time: any/all of my athletic inclination has come in the past five years or so, which coincided with a sudden interest in fitness. Before that I was a skinny, undefined wimp. I managed to get by using my wit and charm, and even scoffed at athletes when I was younger. Part of that passive aggression was due to the fact that I felt entirely out-of-place in any sort of athletic territory. Sports were so foreign to me, that my only defense was to mock them. Now that I have an athletic kid, that strategy is not going to cut it.

Nothing was more horrible to me than soccer game Saturdays when I was a kid. I went to a private Catholic school, so my parents were all but obligated to enroll me in a sport. Soccer was technically the easiest, so I got used to the whole routine – gearing up, running until I was completely out of breath, and being terrified if the ball came by me. I complained throughout practices like a total diva, while the other boys were concerned with their fancy footwork. I knew it just wasn’t for me, but as a child I wasn’t sure how to express it. Soccer game Saturdays meant that I had to give up my beloved Saturday morning cartoon marathon, and go do something that gave me major anxiety. I was internalizing all of my feelings because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.

Eventually, there was a straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t remember what the instance was – perhaps it was the week after week of humiliation that my parents didn’t want me to endure – but my dad asked me the question. “Son, do you want to be in soccer anymore?” I was so incredibly relieved and overjoyed that it became permanently burned into my memory. “NO, dad, I do not want to be in soccer anymore.” And that was the end of my very short school career in sports. I’m not even sure if I made it one season. After that, I even avoided going to sports events – I entirely blocked it out from my life.

Fast forward to now – I am fortunately no longer afraid of being fit and working physically hard to reach goals. I have much more coordination than I ever had, and even enjoy the feeling of being exhausted from working out. While I’m not one to attend sporting events or get excited for the Super Bowl, I’m not as scared of them as I used to be. Now I just see a bunch of sweaty jocks throwing a ball around a field. (Yay!) Since I’m not forced to participate, my viewpoint has changed. The only exception is that I have a sporty kid, and therefore must participate peripherally.

My ex-husband and I both knew early that Briggs would be in sports, somehow. He was always very strong and big for his age, and his favorite toy is any ball that he can kick or throw around. This was initially much to my chagrin, but over time I’ve acclimated to the situation. I remember watching him kick a ball with more accuracy at the age of 2 than I have now, and thinking “Oh shit, I’m going to become a soccer mom.” Now that he’s 7, he’s in two sports – tennis and soccer.

Tennis was my idea. It’s very relaxed and fun to watch him interact with the other kids. He can hit that ball clear out of the court, which is that natural strength he has. And then there’s soccer. He loves it, he’s really good at it, and he wants me to be there to witness all of it. The first few practices, I approached the fields and felt that same anxiety I did when I was a kid. Of course I didn’t show him any of this, and just kinda sat off to the side and observed what the other parents did. Some of the parents are crazy, and actually scare me when I watch them go apeshit for the game. Others are a little more like me – quiet spectators who will get loud at the appropriate time.

His soccer matches are constant reminders of the transformation I’ve made into being a full-blown dad. Being a dad means facing fears and doing things I may not want to do, for the sake of my son’s happiness. As silly as it sounds, I’ve had to overcome some major panic attacks and rally when he needs me. I have immense pride when I watch him do what I couldn’t, and offer my endless support in the best way I can. I may never be the dad that kicks the ball with him down the field, but I’ll always be on the sidelines, cheering and making sure my presence is known.

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