Most of our sons’ childhoods were spent on an athletic field in Ewing. Soccer, baseball, basketball, they did them all at one time or another. From ages 5 to 18, Georgie and Donnie (and me and George) lived on one soccer field or another.
Those days were exhausting, sometimes blazing hot, sometimes bitter cold, always time-consuming, yet they remain some of the most rewarding times we’ve ever spent.
All of us adults were volunteers. We ran concession stands, lined fields, repaired nets, emptied trash, coached and/or managed teams, and we had a blast doing it.
No one got paid. No one expected to. Quite simply, we did what we did for so many years for the kids. All the kids. Not just our own. We all had a hand in raising the kids on the teams. We created a safe, fun, and healthy village in which our kids grew and flourished. And so did the adults.
My parents helped out. My mother sold tee shirts at the West End soccer tournament every Labor Day weekend. I should say she shamed people into buying tee shirts.
Her sales pitch was a little aggressive! My dad helped coach in a pinch. The kids on my sons’ soccer teams still to this day call my dad Pop. I think they were afraid of my mother.
No matter what level of athletic ability the kids had, they were treated the same by coaches and adults.
Everyone learned the meaning of commitment, loyalty, friendship, dedication, sportsmanship, patience and acceptance. They were life lessons. And we all benefitted from them.
Sometimes our teams were good, sometimes not so good. Sometimes we had bad officiating. Sometimes there were arguments, upsets, disagreements. But these all were learning experiences too.
How to handle adversity, how to control anger or frustration, how to channel those emotions into being better, getting better, getting stronger, were lessons invaluable to our kids.
If you ask our sons, they will tell you that some of their best memories were made on those fields. Many of their current friends are friends from their youth soccer days.
Their mentors and role models were their coaches. Their surrogate parents and grandparents stood on those sidelines year after year, watching, encouraging, supporting.
These days I see the players all grown up, some with families of their own, and I feel proud of what they have become. I also feel really really old!
We used to run a Labor Day soccer tournament every year. Our kids were put to work during that tournament. They lugged supplies, set up concession stands, cleaned up after games, and learned the satisfaction of being a part of something that represented Ewing so well.
I was involved in West End soccer for over 17 years, first as a parent who never saw a soccer game in her life, then a coach who had seen soccer games by then but could barely kick the ball without hurting her foot, a manager who made phone calls, shuffled papers, planned meetings, and a board member.
I was also the tournament director for several years. Think about that for a minute: I was the tournament directior!
The woman who, like I said earlier, could barely kick a soccer ball without A) hurting my foot, B) hitting someone, or C)) missing the ball altogether.
The woman who still to this day is not quite sure what offside looks like. The most un-athletic human on the planet and there I was, directing a tournament. I am living, breathing proof that anyone can do anything if they choose to do it. And it was important to my kids, therefore it was important to me.
So here’s some advice to the parents, grandparents, guardians of youth sports-aged kids: get involved.
Be the adult your kids will be proud of. Be the adult who teaches your kids by example what it’s like to give back. Be the adult to learn the lessons that we, the older sports supporter generation, live every day. Be the adult who gets satisfaction from giving a few hours a week to helping a team that is important to your kids. You will not regret it.
Just do it.