There’s an unwritten rule in the world of youth soccer. Parents for the two opposing teams do not mix during the game. They typically sit on the same side of the field but an invisible wall at midfield separates them. This is a good thing. It keeps parents from fighting with each other because someone from the other team said something mean about Billy.
At one particular game that my son was playing in, I was seated right next to that invisible wall at midfield. My team’s parents were to my immediate left and the parents for the other team were to my immediate right. I was in no man’s land. To make matters worse, the team we were playing against was our biggest rival. That’s a nice way of saying that their fans are annoying.
My son played like a lion that day. He had three goals in the first half. After each goal, I cheered loudly for him and secretly hoped that the opposing fans to my right would say something. After his third goal, he held up three fingers and ran back to midfield. Keeping his three fingers on each hand up, he turned and looked at me. It was like he turned into a mannequin. His stare seemed to last for 15 minutes. The fans to my right got the point, I was sure.
At halftime, we were winning 4 t0 1.
Take that, fans to my right.
Almost immediately after the second half started, our rivals scored a goal.
4 t0 2.
And then another.
4 to 3.
And then a few more.
When the game was over, our team had four goals. Our rivals had six. I wished that I had found somewhere else to sit.
But I noticed something in my son that day. When the other team started to come back and eventually took the lead, a few of the players on our team quit. They started to complain. They walked at times when they should have been running. In a very real way, the game was over for these few players about ten minutes before it officially ended.
This is going to sound like a father bragging so please forgive me.
My son never quit. When the other team scored, he ran into the goal and ran with the ball back to midfield to try to get the game started quicker. He was diving all over the place and throwing his body around like he was Charles Oakley in the Eastern Conference Finals.
I noticed two things about my son that day. Both are important but one takes precedence over the other if we genuinely care about training up men and women rather than simply chasing the all important scholarship. That’s one of the many beauties of youth sports. They reveal character. Sometimes those revelations call for celebration and sometimes they demand correction.
The first thing that I noticed was that my son is a really good soccer player and that made me proud.
But the second think that I noticed was my son’s refusal to quit and that made me even more proud.
At some point, my son’s soccer playing days will come to an end. But as long as he is still breathing, he’ll need to know the importance of perseverance. There will be times when his dreams are crushed. Things won’t always go the way that the wants them to go. His heart will be broken. He’ll get scared. He’ll doubt himself.
But he can’t quit.
He has to keep getting the ball out of the goal and running it back to midfield.
My son’s three goals showed me what kind of a player he is. His refusal to quit when it would have been easy to do so showed me what kind of a man he is becoming.
This should be the aim of all parents of young athletes—that they become strong men and women of integrity, not just talented brats with a few scholarship offers.
In the end, I’m glad I had that seat at the sidelines, even though my son’s team didn’t get the win and I had to hear our rivals celebrating.
I had a front row seat to his athletic abilities on full display.
But I got to see something even better on display that day.
And that really makes me want to cheer.