It’s the end of an era…..my oldest child has hung up his cleats…..our hustling, bustling soccer days are over. Noah started soccer when he was three—on the “Yellow” team in Mira Mesa Recreational soccer with Dad Greg and friend Nick Yates as his coaches. This began the onslaught of practices, games, snack duty, carpools, and end of season parties for the next 15 years. Many of our dearest friends and our fondest memories revolve around the soccer years. At seven Noah began competitive travel soccer and the experiences we have all shared have shaped his formative years.
A few weeks ago Noah sat at the senior table with his teammates and friends on the varsity soccer team at the end of season banquet and said farewell to the sport he has loved and embraced for so many years. As the spring weekends approach, we don’t have tournaments or travel games on our schedule. We can actually make plans to go to the beach or work in the yard or get things done around the house. It is both freeing as well as bittersweet.
One of Noah’s first words was “ball.” We discovered through sports that he was dominant on his left—he has always been a left footed kicker and able to use both his left and his right arms in sports like baseball and lacrosse. Very quickly his coaches taught him how to use both feet in soccer and not to rely simply on that strong left foot. Through soccer we truly had some of the “best of times and the worst of times.” Noah learned about team work, about competition, about sportsmanship, about the drudgery of practice and the love of the game. We never made soccer Noah’s life, nor had dreams that he would go pro, nor spent money on recruitment videos for college. But soccer was the driver in our schedule for many, many years. Over the course of his 15 years of soccer we have spent equivalent to a year of college tuition in travel clubs and tournament fees. And we don’t even hold a candle to what some of our soccer playing families have put out in terms of money and time. We never wanted soccer to take over our lives or his life, but at times it felt like it did. We always wanted Noah to simply love what he did—to enjoy his time and his sport. And I will admit that there were many times that he didn’t love it and we didn’t love it. I will admit that I have been THAT parent on the sidelines—whether it was complaining about play time, or the referees, or the tournament schedule. As much as I didn’t want to, I engaged in the politics of the game, the frustrations with the coaches, and the gossip with the team families. There were many times when I didn’t like myself, didn’t like what Noah was involved with, didn’t like the team or the coach. But at the end of the day, Noah still loved the game….and I absolutely loved watching my kid play.
There were many freezing mornings in Lancaster, many rainy days watching in the pouring rain and wind, with kids slipping and sliding on muddy fields, and many scorching days when an umbrella and sunscreen wouldn’t cut it (and that was just the parents on the sideline—imagine the kids playing in the heat—red cheeks and sweat pouring out of every pore). There were all the hotel stays in desert and mountain towns—lots of not so desirable locations, but where friends and community made up for lack of ambiance. There were the team dinners and parent happy hours and the boys running up and down the elevators at the hotels. There were dads playing poker in one room and the boys playing X Box in another and the moms drinking wine in the lobby. There were the smelly socks, the turf balls on the floor mats of my newly cleaned car, the loads of laundry and the stench that never really went away. There were half drunk Gatorades, in a rainbow of colors, hiding under seats and in my trunk for months at a time, the old bananas found later in my glove compartment, the granola bar wrappers sticking to the insides of the doors. There was laughter and fun and joy and victory.
Noah endured two broken noses during his soccer career, many ice baths, bruises, lots of Advil, ripped and scarred knees and shins. He learned discipline—getting up at 5 am for three hour car rides to a game, and balance—as he managed practices, school work, and games, sometimes 4-5 per weekend during tournaments. He learned to keep his mouth shut and listen even when he didn’t agree, he learned about egos and divas and politics and injustice. Noah learned sportsmanship. He learned that rules aren’t always fair, that referees don’t always make the right calls, that coaches aren’t always what you need them to be. He learned how to work with others and how to be part of a team. He learned about accepting defeat and about winning with honor.
The friends he made, the friends we made; the memories we have shared—on and off the field—have made every pain, every defeat, so worth it.
It is the end of an era…no longer will I sit in the metal stands wearing my son’s letter jacket while he plays on the cold nights under the lights. No longer will I cart my beach chair to the grass fields and sit in the hot sun. No longer will my car be riddled with plastic bottles and sticky wrappers. No longer will we pay hotel fees at Embassy Suites and meet all the families for breakfast each morning. No longer will I watch my talented son kick that swooping corner kick right into the goal; no longer will I lose my voice after an insanely competitive game.
It is the end of an era. I think I am rather sad.