29 April 2007

A Soccer Dad Saturday

Spring is here and soccer is in season. Saturday mornings start with the mad dash to find shin guards, long socks, jerseys, shoes, water bottles and snacks in time to make it to Sports Boulevard in Denver's Lowry neighborhood in time for the first of two daily games against other teams in the city's rec center league.

The parents of the three Washington Park Rec Center teams are, well, not quite a gung ho as those in some other neighborhoods in the city. We watch, we provide water and snacks, we even cheer, but we don't deliver legions of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to every game, and our cries to go for the ball or shoot don't have quite the edge that parents on some teams do. Our gossip to game commentary ratio is about 50-50. The hottest political issue is whether the city will decide to remodel the local rec center or put together the economics to build a new indoor swimming pool.

Two dueling coffee shops operate just three traffic circles away, so if circumstances don't conspire to get us there at the very last moment, there is even an opportunity to start the day properly.

This doesn't take away from the sport. The kids get a tremendous workout. By the time they are switched out for breaks in the game, they have been worked hard. My daughter's team is 3-0 which balances my son's team, which is 0-3.

The kids are barely even keeping score anyway. Yes, our kids get utterly trounced by the West side teams who live, eat and breathe the game. But, when they ask in the car on the way home "who won?", you can be comfortable that they enjoyed themselves anyway. For the younger kids, mid-quarter, on-field hugs are all in day's play, the operative strategy is to mob around the ball, and consistently kicking the ball towards the right side's goals is enough to put a kid in the half decent player category.

The older kids do play legitimate soccer, with positions, a goalie, throw ins, passing, ball control and a bigger field; I have yet to see anyone dinged for failing to comply with the tricky off sides rule yet, however. But, they are playing in the moment, not focusing on the overall outcome or their statistics.

Throw in a birthday remembered at the last moment, and you start to recognize the link between "soccer dad" and driving. Drive to the store to buy a last minute gift and forgotten snacks, drive to the field, drive to get a coffee and back, drive kid to birthday party, drive other kid to get lunch, drive other kid to soccer game, drive to pick up first kid from birthday party, drive back to soccer game to pick up second kid, drive home, drive to drop mom off at gym, drive to grocery store, drive to pick up mom at gym, drive to drop off groceries, have dinner, drive mom to second grocery store, drive home to put sleepy kid to bed, drive back to grocery store to pick up mom and groceries, drive back home and put away groceries.

The plus of all of this driving is that you get out and about town a bit. Soccer fields across the city are full of people doing exactly what you are doing. Orthodox Jewish families are walking home from sabbath services in their hats and black outfits, pushing strollers. A Muslim woman in a full burka strolls the produce aisle at Wild Oats. A pair of Mormon missionaries lead a few kids heading out of the local LDS church on an early afternoon outing. Odd dog-man-skateboard combinations cruise to local parks. The Glendale cops work overtime to bring in their quota of traffic tickets at the end of the month. A guy who looks like he took a wrong turn at the 1970s walks past the neighborhood sex shop, obviously with other things on his mind. Two young women who also apparently got sucked through the 1977-2007 time discontinuity stroll down a bike path. Cherry Creek gushes at its high water mark emptying dams overfull from the latest round of spring showers, before they burst the reservoir. A Mexican ice vendor pushes his cart up a plywood ramp into the back of the family SUV after a good day of plying his wares to soccer dads and soccer moms; he'd make three times as much money selling expresso instead, however.

I'm a second generation soccer dad. I played soccer as a kid, but my parents rural communities didn't even have school or community teams, let alone a pro-soccer franchise with a stadium of its own. For them, football and baseball ruled. My exposure to playing either beyond gym class was a single season of T-ball and a season on a law firm softball team. I went to watch as many soccer games in high school as I did football games, and I've never seen a pro-football game in real life, while I've been to several pro-soccer games, although I've not yet made it to Dick's Field in Commerce City, which even has heating elements under the field to melt off spring snow and frost.

Soccer is a great sport. And, unlike ice hockey or football, it doesn't require so much gear that you need a pickup truck just to carry it. At this level, at least, it is still fun, as much a fine day in the park as a source of anxiety.

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