Despite having a firm grasp of the offsides rule, I’m not your typical soccer dad. I’m not too excitable on the sidelines. I don’t cheer too loudly, if I can be heard at all. I don’t yell out unsolicited advice, partly because I have none to offer. I feel bad when kids on the opposing team mess up, such as when taking a penalty kick. I want our goalie to block the kick, not for the other kid to miss the goal completely, like at a game last week when their best player booted the ball over the goal, good for the point after.
Our younger daughter (14) plays for her high school team. She almost didn’t. We almost didn’t let her. See, last season she suffered a concussion. At least one, possibly more. She wasn’t always forthcoming. She missed the second half of last season. We did allow her to run and pole vault last spring, because we thought a soft mat would be better for her tender brain than an oncoming soccer ball.
After her constant pleading leading into preseason this past summer, we finally relented — sort of. We told her if she wore a helmet she could play. I was envisioning something like a football helmet. Well, she found one. Where many of her teammates wear concussion bands, she wears a formfitting helmet offering more protection, enough for us to be less anxious about her playing.
Cindy and I take turns going to her games. We don’t attend all of them, as our other daughter runs cross country. We need to keep some sanity in this our busy sports season. The rest of the year isn’t like this. Last week I was at a game in a nearby Dayton city — a bit of a rough area, unlike most of the rural towns where they play. It was quite the physical game on a frigid night, as we parents bundled up. I’d like to have disguised myself in my hoodie, as I was embarrassed by the venomous spewing coming from the visitors’ stands. The refereeing, it was stated more than once, was bad — whatever that means. Penalties were called when they shoudn’t have been, and weren’t called when they should have been. The view from the stands did at times afford us a better position to see penalties, but we were far enough away that we couldn’t see everything the referees could. As usual, I remained quiet.
The game was tied up at 1 at the half and stayed that way until the last 15 seconds of the game. The ball was at about what would be the visitor’s 30-yard line (if they were playing football), and one of Jacque’s teammates got possession and broke away. The home team’s defense had been up about midfield, so it was just Jacque’s teammate and the goalie — and the clock. In the final seconds, she guided the ball into the net. The goal, which would have won the game, was nullified by an offsides penalty. It would’ve made for a fantastic win in a well-fought, though poorly officiated game (at least from my fellow parents’ perspective).
Jacque’s teammates and coach were livid. I can only imagine the mood on the bus trip back to their school, where I picked her up 45 minutes after the game ended. We spoke briefly about the game before she showered and went to bed. But the following morning we picked up the conversation, wherein I tried to help her find perspective.
I told her this: “I think it’s important for you and your teammates, and your coach for that matter, to realize that the officials are not going to be all that much better at their job than you guys are at yours. I mean, I see how many kicks are flubbed, how many times you miss passing the ball to your teammates, how at times you guys lose your focus. Well, these aren’t professional referees. They’re just guys who know a little about soccer and are probably just trying to pick up some extra cash. They don’t mean to call a bad game. They do the best they can. And that’s all we expect of you guys. We wouldn’t berate you for playing terribly. Let’s not berate them either. I mean, it is just a sport.”
Then I offered her further perspective when I told her about a certain Detroit pitcher whose perfect game was ruined by a botched call at first base by an umpire known to be one of the best and who demonstrated admirable contrition after the fact. I wrote about this a few year ago. If a major league pitcher — I mean, this is the top league in professional baseball — if a major league pitcher can show grace, how much more should teenage girls playing a kid’s sport that has little relevance to life (and their coach)? It is still just a game, isn’t it?
I enjoy sports like many others — baseball in particular, as you’re probably aware. My team, the Arizona D-backs just finished off a terrible year. The worst, actually. They were the worst team in the majors this year. The only consolation to such a dismal year is the fact that now they have first pick in next year’s amateur draft. And they just might keep him, since they just fired their general manager, who’s had a penchant for trading away the organization’s top draft picks. It is still just a game.
Sometimes I wonder what sports will be like in the New Creation. I think we’ll still have them, because games and sports are fun, especially when everyone playing keeps a healthy perspective. And our perspective when Jesus returns and recreates the earth, I imagine, will be right where it needs to be.