Soccer Moms And Aggressive Girls

21 Oct

soccer title

letter when it comes to purifying the essence of humanity, there is no crucible hotter than the cluster of parents at a youth soccer field on Saturday morning.

Most of the time at our weekly games everyone keeps a cool perspective on things.  The kids are young so the competitive-factor is low and the “have fun”-factor is high. But these are our kids we’re talking about. Put together a bunch of parents living vicariously through their children, mix in a diverse collection of personalities, add a dash of competition and what you have is a powder keg just waiting for a lit fuse.

I am well aware of the over-enthusiastic-parent-on-the-sidelines-of-a-youth-athletic-event stereotype (tip of the hat to Mr. Chavez at our high school basketball games). I know my own passions run high, particularly when it comes to my kids, so on soccer morning Saturdays I try really hard to keep that beast in its cage. That being said, there was an – *event* – this weekend where my daughter was singled out by a couple of her coaches. When it happened I’m glad to say I didn’t go all Bruce Banner right there on the soccer field, but it was pretty startling how quickly I transformed from the tranquil, rational Dr. DorkDaddy into “HULK SMASH!!!”

After all, when you come after my daughter you come after me.

A full weekend (and a couple of facebook rage-posts) later the beast is back in his cage and I’m ready to use my blog as a platform for rational discussion. I’ll share with you all the impartial details, make my closing arguments and then let you, The Jury, decide who was in the right.

A little background:

1)      First and foremost, it needs to be said that parents who volunteer their time as youth sports coaches (good or bad) should be lauded from the mountain top. These people are glue that holds a community together. To anyone out there who’s ever coached a community sports team, thank you.

2)      My daughter can be a little… bossy. On the soccer field she puts as much effort into telling her teammates where to stand and what to do as she does chasing the actual ball around. Some would call that “obnoxious,” others would call it “leadership”. In any case, I can appreciate how that behavior could rankle some people. C’est la vie.

3)      Our head coach was gone on vacation all week, leaving the assistant coach(es) in charge of practices and the game.

4)      During practice that week one of the girls got injured. There was concern of a broken ankle that required a visit to the Dr.’s office and an X-ray. Thankfully it was just a sprain, but the player had to miss the game. The details of what exactly happened are sketchy, but the consensus seems to be my daughter was in close proximity when the injury occurred.

soccer1-597x409

On to the events in question:

Just before the game starts Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 comes up to UnDorkMommy and says “Can I talk to you a moment?” She leads my wife away from the crowd, towards the players huddled on the sidelines and they start talking together quietly. Admittedly, the following details are second-hand as my wife was not expecting to get deposed by me after the fact. But what she relayed to me was that Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 told her as they walked towards the players that there was some feedback from some of the other mommies and/or coaches on other teams that my daughter was being a little too “aggressive”. The two assistant coaches were planning on having a talk with Episode IV about it before the game and they wanted my wife to be there when it happened.

By the time my wife and Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 made it to the kids, Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #1 has taken the initiative and was already finishing up “the talk” with my daughter on her own. The game started with my daughter sitting out the first quarter – which in and of itself isn’t unusual but given the context becomes a little suspect.

Needless to say, this was news to us, especially given the fact that we’ve been to every game and every practice and haven’t observed anything inappropriately “aggressive”. If anything we’ve been proud that she’s starting to mix it up a little more and get herself into the scrum of girls clustered around the ball, as opposed to passively staying out of the fray as she has in years past. Granted, she’s taller than most of the girls on the team, and that makes her more of a physical presence… but “aggressive”? I don’t think so. It’s not like anyone’s coming away with a fat, bloodied lip. She isn’t tripping anyone, pulling hair or scratching at eyes. She may be using her body to get into the crowd and get to the ball, but that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s soccer. That’s sports.

We spend the entire first quarter trying to make sense of this new development. I’m probing my wife for details about what exactly was said, by whom and in what context. She’s doing her best to communicate to me while she’s still trying to process. But basically all we’ve got is that someone thinks Episode IV is being too “aggressive” on the soccer field, and the coaches have now told her she needs to pare it back. Now I’m madly trying to process all the variables and implications, watching her across the field sitting out the first quarter, and naturally I’m starting to get in a lather. One of the other team moms hears our conversation and says  to us “’Too aggressive’? You’re kidding, right?” She reaffirms that she’s never seen my daughter do anything that would lead her to that conclusion.

No matter what, clearly this was something that would necessitate a quiet conversation with my daughter after the game, and to do that I was going to need some facts. While the assistant coaches were busy managing the girls between quarters I quietly made my way around the field to where the assistant coaches are doing their thing. I can hear first-hand what’s going on. As they assign positions for the 2nd quarter they ask who wants to be on offense and who wants to play defense. My daughter enthusiastically raises her hand and says she wants to play offense. Assistant Coach #1 makes an effort to keep her response between her and my daughter, but I was close enough to hear exactly what she said. Here are her words to my daughter, verbatim:

“I know you want to play offense, but you remember that little problem we talked about before the game? You’re going to play defense this quarter so you can work on it.”

Oh… It. Is. On.

As the quarter started and the girls got to playing, I silently moved up behind Assistant Coach #1. “Obviously we’re going to have a talk with Episode IV about all this after the game,” I said over her shoulder, eyes fixed on the game. “I want to make sure I’ve got my details right so I’m going to need a little context from you.”

“Oh!” she said, visibly startled. Obviously she wasn’t expecting to hear a deep, sonorous, authoritative but conspicuously calm and rational voice resonate suddenly from behind her while she was focused on getting the quarter started. There wasn’t much I could do about that. “Well, um, we’ve got some feedback from some moms and some coaches from other teams that Episode IV is being a little too aggressive.”

“OK. Fair enough,” I replied. “Just so I’m clear, is it a sportsmanship issue? Is she playing dirty? Is she pulling jerseys or taking cheap shots? That sort of thing?”

“Oh no. Nothing like that,” said Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #1.

“So it’s not like she’s playing dirty. She isn’t kicking anyone in the shins or throwing a tantrum if things don’t go her way. Her heart is in the right place.”

“Right, right. She’s just really enthusiastic and that’s making her play really aggressively”

“So what’s the lesson I need to reinforce here?” I asked. “Do you want me to tell her she needs to be a little less enthusiastic? Should I tell her she needs to be more passive?” I was using that tone that my wife hates so much. It’s the tone that on the surface sounds respectful and reasonable enough, but just under the surface makes it very clear how ridiculous I think your position is.

“No, no” she responded, notably flustered. “I told her she just needs to tone it down a bit.”

“I see,” I said in the same tone, hands behind my back, chin up, eyes still fixed on the game rather than on her. “Thank you. I think I have everything I need.” I walked back to the parent side of the field without excusing myself and relayed the details of the conversation to my wife.

At halftime Episode IV came over to us to get her water bottle. “Hey, Honey. What was it your coach told you before the game?” we asked.

“She said I was being too aggressive and I need to not be so aggressive” she replied. “Also *NAME REDACTED* said that it was my fault *NAME ALSO REDACTED* isn’t playing today.”

I kneeled down, put my arm around my strong little girl and whispered in her ear “We are super proud of how hard you are playing. Accidents happen, and what happened at practice was an accident. That’s nobody’s fault. As long as you’re a good sport, as long as you’re nice to everyone on the field, I want you to play as hard as you can. You keep playing aggressive, no matter what anyone tells you.”

She looked up at me with her knowing smile and ran back to her team. Worth noting: in the 3rd quarter she was thrilled to play in the (notably non-aggressive) goalie position.

Sorry, Supes. Not on this team. You'd be too aggressive. Try a boys team.

Sorry, Supes. Not on this team. You’d be too aggressive. Try a boys team.

***

Perspective break.

This is 7-year-old, non-competitive, girls soccer. This should not be the sort of thing that gets a parent so worked up that he can’t see patients on Monday morning (my first patient today and I had a good laugh about that). But this is also my daughter we’re talking about.

I want my daughter to be a strong woman. That kind of strength will serve her well in life. Women have enough to deal with in the world without getting the message from the authority figures that they should be less aggressive.

What then IS the message that we are sending? What is the lesson that we are teaching here?

This is sports – albeit 7-year-old, non-competitive girls soccer. Priority #1 should be “have fun.” The other priority #1 should be “be a good sport.” Beyond that, what lessons should we be teaching them? Sports are as much about competition as they are about work-ethic. Working hard, playing hard, being aggressive, learning how to be a good citizen in those contexts, these are some of the most valuable lessons we learn from sports.

“Be less aggressive”?!? Unless someone is being unsportsmanlike, I can’t think of a single context where that message is appropriate in an athletic setting. On the contrary, if this had been a boys team at the same level a coach would be fired for giving the advice “be less aggressive.” In fact, ostensibly, it isn’t hard to imagine that if she were a boy, Episode IV would have been celebrated for being aggressive, and encouraged to be more so.

On top of all of that, my wife made the observation that my little lady getting that message from another woman, a grown woman, adds another shameful layer to the entire affair.

In any case we used the entire experience to reaffirm to our daughter the value of sportsmanship, the fact that we are incredibly proud of her, and the notion that sometimes adults, even adults in a position of authority, *ESPECIALLY* adults in a position of authority… can be wrong

***

Today is Monday. It’s a new week. The Head Coach is back and my pressure gauge is safely out of “critical” back down into the green zone.

I am more than willing to acknowledge the possibility that I am way off base here, and if you readers tell me as much in the comments below I will accept it with humility.

But one thing is clear: whether it’s me or Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach(es)#1(and#2), this weekend one of us had our priorities way out of whack.

Your thoughts are welcome.

-Dork Dad

20 Responses to “Soccer Moms And Aggressive Girls”

  1. Silvertide October 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I like to think I’m a relatively level headed individual about such things, however, the current notion of a large portion of ‘young athletic groups’ across the nation seem to hover around the idea that everyone is a winner and I feel like this situation falls a little into that scheme. Around 7-8, kids are finding their strengths and exploring their capabilities. It sounds like your girl is still playing respectfully, while trying to be a promising athlete at the same time. Also, it could’ve been handled much more reasonably and less “emotionally” by the coaching staff. How is she going to ‘work on it’ (and on what, it’s not like she purposefully injured a player) if she’s punished for accidents? Sure, if she’d hurt several players and is up growling in peoples faces and pushing them down – absolutely, that’s not good sportsmanship. But in sports, accidents happen, and at the time of said accident, you address to the team about being mindful to avoid accidents – and that’s it. I’d be irked. Sorry, as much as we’d all like to make sports a pansy play area, there is something to be said for healthy enthusiasm, esteem and the desire to be a strong athlete. There are winners and losers. And there are winners that are losers based on how they LEARN (through winning, and losing, you know – actually legitimately playing a sport) to grow from every loss or victory. How can our kids be passionate about anything if we don’t teach them that there is something worth trying to be GOOD at (because why do your best if everyone gets the prize…? Let’s be honest!). *end rant brought on by your rant* :)

  2. my27stars October 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I think, perhaps, a better way for them to have talked to your daughter would have been saying something to the effect of, “You’re doing a great job, and we’re so happy that you are really getting out there and participating with so much enthusiasm, but can you try to be aware where you are in relation to other players on the field so that everyone can stay safe?” And it should have been brought up to you and UnDorkMommy first, separate from Episode IV or other kiddo players, as it is a non-competitive 7-year-old league that you likely pay for to participate in. Your understanding and acceptance of any perceived issue and the consequences for that issue should come before any consequence is dished out. ESPECIALLY since there was no playing dirty.
    It seems to me like the “problem” is that Episode IV is so enthusiastic about the sport now that she’s opened up and is playing “in the fray” that she perhaps gets some tunnel vision and doesn’t focus on being aware of her surroundings. Teaching her to be mindful of her proximity to the other players would, I think, be a perfect way to address the idea that without squashing very important new feelings of excitement and gusto that she hadn’t had before. And honestly, it’s part of sportsmanship that should be taught in these kid sports leagues. Accidents happen, but if we really focus on making sure we’re playing safely with everyone on the team, we should be able to keep a lot of accidents from happening. Learning, sportsmanship, awareness, team-building, stuff like that. That’s what kid sports are for, right?
    And absolutely, this is a sport. Non-competitive, 7-year-olds, girls, it doesn’t matter. It’s an active game where accidents are going to happen, and I believe you and the other parents probably signed some kind of waivers indicating an understanding of that fact. How are they going to punish a girl for an accident (hearsay from another child about whether it was even her fault or not) while admitting there was no playing dirty, no cheap shots, nothing that she MEANT to do that should give her a time-out? AND THEN to not even let her play offense after she “served her time” (that she shouldn’t even have had to serve) and to further call her out on the field for her being presumably responsible (again, hearsay from another 7-year-old, a related one at that!) and continue to punish her and not allow her to try and prove that she won’t be so aggressive.

    • my27stars October 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Or you could find her a nice roller derby league to join. That might solve everything, and she can play as hard as she wants because she (and every other kid) will have a helmet on. :)

      • Ande October 23, 2013 at 8:14 am #

        ^ This is also a very good idea.

  3. Escaping Elegance October 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Hey DD,
    Short answer – you are right.

    Long answer – I played a lot of competitive sports (as a girl) and was a high-level tennis coach as an adult and there is a definite double standard between boys and girls sports. As Silvertide said above, there comes an age when it is no longer appropriate for “everyone to be winners”. Sure, when they are just starting and developing their basic skills, you want the environment to be gentle and non-threatening so that no one is scared away but, by the time they are 7-8, you have to start developing the kid’s competitive instinct. “Aggressive” isn’t a bad word in sports, as long as all the rules are followed and good sportsmanship is observed.

    As for the coaches, I too laud every volunteer coach who steps forward and understand that they may not have the knowledge or experience to coach effectively, but…

    Telling someone to “be less” anything is terrible coaching. If you are the kid, you are wondering what that even means, let alone knowing how to do it. Coaching has to be constructive, you have to tell them specific things to change and it has to be done in a positive manner. It’s like a sandwich – good thing / thing to change / good thing
    Eg. “Hey Episode IV, that was a great pass to other kid. Now in this play, try to lay back a bit from the group to stay open for a pass. Alright? Now get out there, great hustle!”

    Damn, your rant has just started a rant avalanche…

    • dorkdad October 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Just be glad I didn’t write this post on Saturday afternoon. That post would have been much more…

      …rant-ish.

  4. zeudytigre October 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    My daughter was an enthusiastic but not particularly talented member of a local soccer squad. She was physically bullied so we raised this with the coaches. This resulted in her being suspended from the team. A life lesson?

  5. Kellen October 21, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Did anyone, at any time, give you specific instances of “aggression” by Episode IV? I think that would disturb me the most. Whenever someone has approached me about my children’s behavior in any arena, I have always asked for specifics. Then I can have a resonable conversation with my child AND with the adult(s) in charge. I really can’t imagine having a generic “talking to” with my kid about being too something about anything. Especially at age 7. As smart as kids are/can be at that age, they have usually not managed to achieve the ability to apply generics to themselves. How confusing for your daughter! I would have been very aggressive myself in your situation. Kudos for calming down.

  6. Jonathan October 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I think you raised things in the right way, especially as you weren’t really told why your daughter was seen as being aggressive. If she was playing in a fair and sporting manner, and wasn’t being excessive in how much force she was using then I don’t see what the problem is here (…other than how the coaches dealt with the issue).

  7. klyse3 October 21, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    I am torn on this. I played in city soccer leagues for years (since age 9) and also refereed for the same leagues. While it is always good for players to be somewhat aggressive, I also know the frustration of being a small player on the field and losing challenges simply because another player was bigger. Obviously, that is a situation that has to be dealt with very delicately – you can’t tell the larger player to play carefully, because that’s not what soccer is about, but neither is it good to have one bigger (in the sense of taller, broader, simply more developed) player running rampant over everyone else. I’m not implying that that is the case with your daughter, but that is the type of scenario that I imagine has her coaches concerned. Certainly, they should have handled it better. However, that does not mean that their point is completely invalid and it certainly is a difficult issue to navigate.

    With that said – Kudos to your daughter for playing soccer, particularly not passively, and kudos to you for raising a strong young lady!

  8. rougedmount October 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    i am very glad you were able to act like a grown up, because i would have failed miserably. coach 1 and coach 2 are jerks. they were being vengeful and spiteful towards your daughter and trying to make her feel guilty for injuring another child and for not “acting” like a girl. girls supposed to be enthusiastic about sports! as far as i am concerned, her size made HER a target for other moms to single out as ‘that big girl’ who might be concerned that their kids might get hurt because the extra size and weight simply means she will always win when it comes to a head to head match up between them. Her size isn’t your daughters fault and she shouldn’t feel badly about her body, and that is EXACTLY what was being implied. I would have been royally pissed off. Your words to your daughter were perfect! Play well, play hard, be kind, be aware and NEVER back off from doing your best.

  9. Anonymous October 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    Those girls better stay out of U10. Everyone is agressive & most of the teams we play, play dirty. We have had a lot of conversations with A about holding her ground, keeping her arms to her sides getting in there without getting hurt. That’s soccer…..

  10. kjysten October 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    That’s why I never liked team sports. Whiners, blamers, complainers, liars – and that was just the coaches. You’re right to raise an aggressive – but fair – girl. Lots of the hostility must come from jealousy – that’s how I read it. Those who can – do; those who can’t point the finger at the other guy and yell “cheater.”

    Just teach her the old saw, “Well-behaved women never made history” and glory in her competence. :>

  11. Anonymous October 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Right on Dork Daddy, right on! I agree 100% that this should have been handled outside of the game and with parents present. Episode IV is enthusiastic and sweet and is surely proud her Dork Daddy stood up for her and reassured her! I too am at every practice and have never seen episode IV be aggressive. As I say this is Donkey doo!!!

  12. Dreams October 22, 2013 at 12:48 am #

    The beauty of organized sports is it exposes children to real world scenarios: adults are not perfect and can’t expect coaches or people of authority to be correct all the time. People get hurt/injured in the real world and nobody is to blame, it just happens. All you can really do is play the game, have fun while doing it, and work on getting past criticism, adversity, and unfairness because those things will always exist. Great job handling the experience:)

  13. Ande October 23, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    This is exactly why I think, at this age, all sports should be co-rec. I don’t think there’s that big of a physical difference yet between boys and girls at seven, and (especially in a non-competitive league) there aren’t any extraneous safety or competition issues.

    I coached a team of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls in hockey for a couple years before moving to the hockey wasteland of Oklahoma, and each of the players (hopefully) got the same message. I wanted them to have fun, I wanted them to be good sports—and I encouraged those two things above all else—and after that, I encouraged them, all of them, boys and girls, to be aggressive. Timidness gets you about as far in life as it does in sports. I think that’s probably more important for the girls to hear than the boys, as so many other situations will teach them the opposite, just as the assistant coach/soccer moms were pushing on her. Should I have a daughter of my own someday, I want her to kick a little ass.

    So the takeaway here: put her in hockey. It’s a better sport anyway.

  14. Dashing Dad October 23, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    My biggest issue is why was your daughter’s team playing soccer in quarters? Soccer is played in halfs, not quarters.

    • dorkdad October 23, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      The quarters are just for scheduled substitutions.

      Purist.

      (c:

  15. Anonymous December 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I am a coach. I coach soccer, basketball and High School softball. GIRLS SHOULD NEVER BE TOLD TO BE LESS AGRESSIVE! I have coached young kids in soccer for many years and they only thing you did that would have upset me was come to my side of the fieild during a game. The head coach should not have missed any game. (I have missed none in over 4 years) I am a vollenteer and I love to coach, if my daughter had a coach that told her to be less agressive I would be livid. Kids soccer is a very physical sport. If you don’t want your kid to fall down play checkers.

  16. Noel December 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    Okay, honestly, I would have had trouble not hulking out on the coach right then and there. Or at some point shortly after. A meeting of some sort would have definitely occurred with this coach. If nothing else out of fear that this woman might carry the horrifying belief that it might be ok to unfairly single out some other poor girl in the future.

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