From the Rev: Soccer Dad

Jun 17, 2012

Happy Father’s Day to fathers today.

Working as the team chaplain for the Colorado Rapids for the last 11 seasons means that I have spent a lot of time around the sport of soccer. Whether attending or watching games or watching training sessions, much of my free time has been spent around the “world’s game.” I even had a brief stint as coach for a U-12/13 (“u” means under) girls soccer team for a local youth soccer club to earn some extra money while in seminary.

Now, with four daughters of my own, people often ask – “When are you going to put your kids in soccer?” It is a question that I wrestle with personally. Perhaps, it is because I have been around the game so much. I have definitely formed some opinions and considerations about the youth game, a few of which I will share with here.

First, let me say, that soccer and sport in general is not for everyone (individually) or every family. My oldest daughter (nearly 9 years old), is athletic and certainly capable of playing, but as a father I must work within a delicate balance. Does my child have a desire to play (or participate)? This question, could be applied to many different types of activities – from piano lessons to horseback riding to competitive sports. As a father, it is part of my role (along with mom) to make sure that our children are growing and developing (i.e. not letting them beg out of activities like soccer just to sit around and watch TV). I remember a couple years ago, asking my daughter if she wanted to play soccer. Her response? “Dad, I just like to play in the yard with friends.” And I see that as a father – it is ok. I don’t feel the need to push my daughter to be Mia Hamm and pursue professional soccer at this point in her life.

A second consideration around youth soccer is the investment that a person and family makes. There is travel time, practice time, game time, injuries, fees, uniforms, and equipment expenses – none of these may be overwhelming at first glance, but here is where the consideration of the family must take place. Our family values gathering around the dinner table and sharing a meal, talking about our day, being together – this is more difficult when you and your child are leaving the practice fields at 6:30 or later at night. While soccer might be something that an individual plays, it has an impact on more than just the individual and each family must evaluate the cost.

Another consideration for me is the atmosphere around youth soccer. Perhaps more so on the boys’ side – but the competitive sphere tends to bring out the worst, especially in parents. Admittedly, in my time coaching U12 girls, there was a lot of shouting going – but from my side trying to instruct girls in the midst of the game. From the other side of the pitch, the parents were often bemoaning the officials (sometimes even me) or the other team or other parents. This is a sad part of youth sports culture – fathers and mothers yelling at each other, yelling at officials and often to the embarrassment and disdain of their children. “It’s just a game?” For many today soccer (and other competitive sport environments) are not just a game – they are a stepping stone to something else. Perhaps it is a scholarship at a college or other types of awards or accolades. These are not inherently bad things, but often in the pursuit of them the bad character of people comes out.

Finally, and perhaps most grieving for me, from where I have been as chaplain for these many years, I have seen personally the devastation in people’s lives when they forsake God for the god of soccer. I have watched parents and players alike, become addicted to the drug of sport. And usually family life, church, and spiritual life are the casualties. The emphasis on the physical training and the physical pursuit of the sport trumps the spiritual. In the end, when soccer fails to produce what people so eagerly want to achieve, there are spiritual skeletons that limp through life. Now, this is not true of all parents and children who put their children into youth sports – but for those without regard or consideration for how youth sport impacts faith and family it is certainly a dangerous threat.

In the end, I realize that some of these words might seem hard or harsh. Some of you may think that I hate soccer (or youth sports) or that I am a bad or unfair father. But my primary responsibility to my family and to my children is to raise them in the ways of God and to take great care in their spiritual, emotional, and mental development as well as in the physical. In other words, dads, we are called to be more than just soccer dads. We are called to be God-honoring, God-modeling fathers “train(ing) a child in the way he should go, (so that) when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).





Rev. Brad Kenney

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