Derek first started playing organized soccer when he was about 6 years old. When we signed him up, the local league placed him on a team comprised mostly of other kids from the elementary school he attended, as they were wont to do. His assigned coach happened to be the father of a boy Derek already knew from class…and the rest is history. From that point forward, we registered him in the Spring and Fall and requested the exact same coach. As for the kids, there was a core group of soccer enthusiasts who stuck with it, like Derek, and they literally grew up on the field together. It was a fun-loving, tight-knit bunch--who learned a whole lot about the Beautiful game, of course, but also about sportsmanship, fair play, being a good teammate, and other intangible, invaluable Life Lessons.
It just so happened that our move to North Carolina coincided with Derek and his friends aging out of that particular organization anyway, so his Maryland recreational soccer career would have ended one way or the other. We then had to figure out how to navigate the complex Wide World of Sports in Chapel Hill…which involves multiple tiers of competition and a befuddling array of options. Almost by trial and error, we ended up getting Derek a tryout with a team that was short a few players and looking to fill up their roster. The coach offered him a spot, and so we entered the unfamiliar new realm of Triangle United.
It turned out to be an extraordinary stroke of luck that Derek landed with this gang—another personable group of boys who enjoyed laughing and goofing around together as much as they did kicking a ball and running. And their fearless leader—a massage therapist by day, if you can believe it—turned out to be someone who worked them hard, and certainly would not hesitate to yell when he thought it necessary…but also let them have FUN. Derek would routinely come home from practice sweaty, exhausted, and famished…but also grinning broadly about the time he’d spent on the pitch with his buddies, and with amusing stories to share about their exploits. In short, he not only improved as a player during his time on that team, but enjoyed the heck out of that year, as well.
The following season, however, was not so charmed. Yes, he was selected for the same squad…but many of his former teammates had either been chosen by other coaches to fill holes in their lineups, or had decided not to play for whatever reason. Also, his former coach wasn’t available (we think he was getting married—a very good excuse!) so they were assigned a different one. Therefore, not only was the team chemistry non-existent…the new coach proved to be a stern…humorless…hmmm, how should I phrase this…pretty downright negative person.
Fairly early on, I got an unfavorable impression of him just from the tone of his emails, but even more evidence came from Derek, who reported that this guy’s “teaching style” (if you can call it that) tended toward reprimands, insults, and punishment as his way of…I’m really not sure…maybe motivating them? Anyway, it didn’t fly with Derek—or probably with any of the other young men, either. As you can guess, the result was that Derek did NOT have what you might call a “good experience” in his second season at Triangle—which is truly a shame when you’re putting in as much time, effort, and commitment as they require.
But, even coming off a less-than-stellar campaign, Derek didn’t hesitate to attend tryouts for the next year, which Triangle always holds immediately after the Spring season ends. Once again he was notified that the recommendation was for him to continue with the same team…although he figured out that he knew only one other person from the previous year…and there would be yet another new coach. Nevertheless, we sent in the registration check to secure his roster spot--and that’s about it, as nothing else happens for this age group until closer to November. However…noticing that I’d placed a sticky note on the calendar to remind me that another installment payment was due on October 1st, Derek approached me on Friday and uttered the dreaded words: “I need to talk to you about something.” (Uh-oh…bracing self for something bad/scary/infuriating…expensive? Gulp…)
Apparently, he’d been doing some thinking (always somewhat of a dicey proposition from a teenage boy…am I right?), and had come to the conclusion that…he didn’t want to play for Triangle anymore. (Pause to allow time for mouth falling open, brain reeling, heart pounding, hyperventilating—yes, of course I’m referring to myself! Okay, continue…) He went on to explain that, with the school term having begun, he didn’t think he was going to be able to manage 3, 90-minute practices a week (each one an hour round-trip commute), plus all the travel to games on weekends (at stadiums at least an hour distant)…on top of all the demands of his Junior year courseload (which he was just realizing was going to be quite rigorous).
Clearly, he’d been planning his attack—um “approach”, because he even threw in how much money Husband and I would save by not having to pay for the Triangle fees, mandatory uniform items, team charges, tournaments…etc. Finally, with all that being said, he also admitted that he just didn’t think it was worth it, given how much drudgery…and little entertainment…had been involved in the previous season.
And you know, I get it, I really do. There’s no point in working your butt off to participate in a sport…if it’s not rewarding as well. All of his points were absolutely valid—the finances (considerable); the travel burden (major); the time commitment (extensive); the desire to focus on academics. (admirable. And by the way: Yay! You certainly know how to appeal to your mother…well played, son!) I didn’t disagree with any of them…yet I still wanted to burst into tears when he was relaying all this information to me. (Yeah, yeah, I don’t do that. But trust me, I was crying on the inside…) I mean, I’ve been watching this kid sprint around a field for a decade, playing a game that brought him great joy, with talent and skill…and while I had already started to at least try to steel myself for the Team WestEnders Soccer Era coming to an end…I thought I still had a few years left before I actually had to go through the painful withdrawal.
So…is this what it’s like when your children grow up a little bit, and want to take some matters into their own hands, rather than being content to allow Mom and Dad to control every aspect of their lives? What’s that you say? It’s a normal, healthy, and positive part of their development and their eventual growth into independent, successful adult human beings? Well, that’s all very well and good…but let me just say: it SUCKS…and I HATE it. (Obviously this is only my initial reaction…it’s gonna take me a minute—or, you know, a looong while--to adjust…I’ll get back to ya…)
And I do realize that at 16, Derek is plenty old enough to consider his alternatives and make some choices that affect him…especially when he’s taken the time to think things through, and present his argument in a rational way. And I also recognize that I need to give him kudos for that, and--after talking it over with him so we make sure we’ve covered all the bases--accept his final decision gracefully. Siiiggghhh. At least I can take comfort in the fact that Riley is happily involved with his new team, so I won’t be entirely soccer-deprived this year. I’ll just have to bond with Derek over other topics…such as how, with all of his newfound free time, he can accompany me on the twice-monthly Costco runs. (Hey…that might even push him back toward wanting to take up a sport, just to avoid the Warehouse Chaos…mwah hah hah!)