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Emily Morrison Emily Morrison
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Youth sports: parent education

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I'm lucky to live in a community that fosters kids' athletics. When it comes to fall sports, kids in Bucksport area schools are spoiled for choice. Last Saturday, when I brought my daughter to youth soccer, I arrived to a smorgasbord of activities: a high school cross country track meet, an elementary boys' football game and elementary boys' and girls' soccer scrimmages. Every track, field and nature trail that was available saw play.

This Saturday was no different. Kids climbed out of minivans with shin guards or shoulder pads, water bottles and cleats. They swarmed the fields like little Olympians. Parents lined the perimeter, some in lawn chairs, others leaning over the fence with purpose, but all were rallied around their kids. As a teacher whose interaction with parents is limited to yearly open house visits, to see this outpouring of parental support just knocks me back.

As a soccer mom, this means I need to remember I'm one of many parents out there rooting for their kid. This is a tricky business, respectfully manning the sideline. You hear all sorts of chanting, coaching and even scolding remarks from the parental peanut gallery that it serves you well to remember 'it's just a game.' I often tell my in-laws, 'If I start spouting strategic maneuvers, please muzzle me.' You just get so swept up in the moment, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, it's hard not to yell out, 'GO TO THE BALL, SWEETHEART!'

My daughter's team has known the agony of defeat for two consecutive seasons. Their first year they were 0/8. Last year, they were 0/3 (5 ties, though). Last Saturday, in this, her third season, they finally tasted sweet victory. After beating the green team soundly (8-0), my daughter climbed back into our van and said, 'Mom, we actually won! Do you know, we've never won before?' She sounded pleasantly surprised, as if the thought had just occurred to her. My husband, on the other hand, was positively euphoric. He kept saying, 'Wow, they won. They really won,' followed by a far off look in his eyes (reliving his own state championship I'm sure.)

This week, a new excitement hummed along the sideline. There was a hitch in my daughter's step, a strut in her stride that wasn't there before. Was it pride? Was it eager anticipation of another 'W?' Was I just imagining it? 'This is going to be a big game,' Coach Rich said. Our girls would be evenly matched against the red team, a team whose players are roughly the same age and ability as our own white team. This could get interesting, I thought. An even match-up.

While waiting for the game to begin, Richard Sprague, the director of the Bucksport Youth Soccer Program, reiterated this point, 'It's all about match-ups at this level of unskilled play; it comes down to individual athletes.' Sprague, the former Bucksport Middle School girls' soccer coach for 16 years, has seen many such match-ups in his career.

When talking about the value of the program, Sprague added, 'You're creating positive memories kids will have for a lifetime. Sports are such a big part of socialization. They have to learn to share. They share the ball, share the field and they share the win or loss.' As I watched my daughter sit the bench for the first few minutes of the game, I realized that this is what I want her to learn. I want her to share this experience with her teammates, to feel part of something bigger than herself.

Then the game began, and I forgot all about sharing. They actually scored a goal! They looked good out there! We were up 1-0 at half time, and a parent of the opposing team said, 'They're all winners, aren't they?' I knew this sentiment well. Hadn't I spouted the same platitudes the past two seasons? 'It's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game.' Yeah, yeah. But we were winning this time, so all those euphemisms about losing didn't matter anymore.

Then the red team scored a goal. We were no longer winning. It was a tie game. 'It's OK,' I told myself. 'This is good. Maybe that dad was right. They're all winners. If they tie, they can share the victory together.' Right after this epiphany, our team scored again and the thrill of another 'W' was in the air. I could almost taste the celebratory happy meal. Wouldn't my delightful little defender be so happy?

The whistle blew signaling the end of the game, and a joy like no other descended on her team. Jumping, high-fiving and sweaty hugging ensued. I looked at their jubilant faces and thought, 'Yes, this is what it's all about!' As the girls lined up for their congratulatory 'good game' high fives, I saw the red coach consoling a teary blonde player. She was sobbing beside him.

Coach Scott gave a rousing speech meant to rally the troops. 'We don't lose, we learn. You played very, very hard out there. Let's take what happened today and learn from it. If you played as hard as you could, then be proud of yourself.' Though I was touched, the little blond girl was having none of it. She wanted to win, and all of this learning not losing stuff didn't set right with her.

Then something neat happened. One of the star players of the white team walked over to the red bench. She stood in front of the little blond girl and told her, 'You did a really good job out there. You should be proud of how you played. Don't be sad.' I was blown away. They got up, walked over to the white bench, and shared cold drinks.

That little girl shared her win. No one told her to 'play nice.' No one said, 'Go be a good sport.' She was a good sport. She was the most aggressive girl on the team, yet she instinctively played nice. How did she learn this? By playing sports. She knew what it was like to lose and what it was like to win. When she saw another player upset, it didn't matter what team she was on.

It just mattered. That's what I learned off the field today.

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