Saturday, November 13, 2010

Soccer Parenting

So due to massive peer pressure at school -- all the girls in Grade 1 were doing it -- my 6 year old has been 'playing' soccer of a Saturday morning for the past couple of months. I, say, 'playing' because from my, albeit fairly limited, viewing of the festivities she was involved in precious little of what might be called 'playing' by sports authorities. Today was the last game and in the hope of using my great parental presence to encourage more playing rather than 'playing' I spent an hour in the cold at the side of a muddy field.

The game started off hopefully enough when my daughter, contrary to many previous occasions where she has just stood in the middle of the field waiting to be substituted out so she could stand at the side of the field, ran around. I'd like to say that she ran in the direction of the ball but that would have been asking quite a lot as she was not really looking at where the ball was. In her case, it was at the feet of a gigantic player from the other team and streaking away from their goal. Suffice it to say, the ability for the other side to score many goals was a team effort. They went towards the goal and most of the players on my daughter's team preferred to stay out of their way.

Sports authorities would no doubt characterise their performance as undisciplined. However, that would be taking a rather narrow view of the proceedings. For instance, my daughter engaged in a very disciplined performance of part of what I guess was the Nutcracker ballet. This was great news because during her dance classes she appears to act more as if she is kicking imaginary balls than dancing. Something was coming together even if out of school activities were somewhat out of sync.

Now it is at this point that you might be wondering what the economist in me was thinking, and could probably guess quite correctly. What this needed was some good old-fashioned incentives. Alas, I am sensible enough to try and keep these things firmly within the home lest I offend some sensible parent out there. Fortunately for me there was another parent without such shame. He offered anyone who scored a goal on my daughter's team, a donut. Faced with the oranges we had brought, this got their attention. I, of course, supported the move but it was clear to me that a myriad of unintended consequences could arise. For starters, there would be little reason for team playing, passing and the like. And then there was the issue that surely defending their goal against the giants on the other side would be worthwhile. And we can go on and on. Nonetheless, it perked up my interest so I kept my objections to myself.

You are perhaps hoping at this point that more goals were scored by our side. Alas that was not to be. To be sure, incentives were part of the reason for a lack of playing. Unfortunately, correcting that only exposed the other issue, a skill deficit. Nonetheless, the ball seemed to be spending a healthy amount of time in the better side of the field, so much so that we parents migrated towards the centre so we could see more of the action. On many dimensions one would categorise that as a success. However, it also revealed that perhaps our team's on field behaviour was an entirely rational response given what they would otherwise bring to the table.

Indeed, there is a final piece of evidence to that effect. When the final whistle blew and the players started to leave the field, my daughter saw her opportunity, got a hold of the ball and started streaking towards the goal with a donut firmly in her sight and no obstacles in her way. Alas, she missed but I admired the last ditch effort. That said, I'm not sure the other parent would have awarded her the only donut on that basis but fortunately, that was a legal dispute we didn't have to enter into.

Soccer is now over and I think this is also it for my soccer parenting days too. I am grateful for the taste of that life that so absorbs many other parents but I am also pleased that I will be spending Saturday mornings this winter firmly indoors.

Update: Then again ...