Why I (almost didn’t) Let My Son Play on the Village Football Team

November 23, 2020 by

The author's son at practice

It’s safe to say that I’ve fairly mixed feelings about organized sports. I don’t play sports now, never really enjoyed playing when I was younger, and think following a professional team has all the excitement of starting a worm farm. I find it completely baffling that anyone could get excited about a bunch of grown men scrabbling about after a ball. There are times, though, that I wish I could pretend to like at least one sport, more than anything because it’s hard to be the odd one out. Amid all the armchair analysis of yesterday’s game, it’s quite difficult to find someone interested in the Derek Mahon poem I’ve just come across.

Of course it’s in one’s teenage years that peer pressure of this type is most acute, and sports represents my first colossal failed attempt at being something I was not. I remember trying hard to make sense of the sports page in the paper and being hopelessly overwhelmed by the boring details,and the feeling of inadequacy at being the last one picked for a team. I would start out in games with our youth group determined to surprise the world with energy and speed – then, finding myself invariably bored, I would start being creative rather than effective with my ball handling.

Thank God we grow up eventually.

Given all this, it was a big decision for my wife and me to allow our eleven-year-old to play on the village football team last year (otherwise known as soccer to you Americans). On the one hand we were really keen on giving him the chance to interact with other kids from the area, to learn how to play hard, to lose with dignity. On the other, having someone in the family wanting to talk about Manchester United or some other equally ghastly team all the time seemed to be a fate worse than death. And God help us, we thought, if one of our kids turns into one of those strutting, smirking, arrogant thickos who thinks he is something special just because he scored a couple goals last week.

Of course this was something we discussed with the other parents here at Darvell as well as the staff of our school. Parents naturally have different interests and approaches, but anything that one child experiences can affect all of their peers as well. We were concerned especially about two things: one, we did not want there to be division among the children between those on the team and those who were not; and two, we wanted to keep the game in perspective – life is about more than football.

Our son has been on the team for a year now. It’s been interesting and for the most part, really positive. The team was not brilliant last year, but they had some wins and definitely started to get better at working together. My son has had to deal with adults shouting at him, really bad sportsmanship (mostly from parents), and playing games in horrible weather. He feels personally responsible when the team loses but has learned to take his dad’s cavalier attitude towards winning or losing in stride. For my own part I’ve been impressed both by the care and dedication of the volunteer coaches and by the Football Association’s scrupulous commitment to good sportsmanship and respect for others. I can’t say that I get a tremendous kick out of watching a match on a cold and rainy Saturday morning, but it’s a moderately OK bonding experience with the other parents (mostly dads).

And since you are wondering, Derek Mahon was an Irish poet who died last month and you can see the poem that got me excited here. If you’re able to read this without the sense of your soul soaring upwards, I might start to question how much of one you have.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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