Sometime in 2016, I will witness my 1,000th youth soccer game. I figured it out on the back of a napkin.
Over time, I've realized that the real show is on the sidelines.
Watching parents — especially travel-team soccer parents — is a hoot. Interestingly, it's the dads, not the moms, who are most often over-invested in these youth games. Moms typically shout encouragement to their kids or warn away other children who foul with their "babies."
Dads, on the other hand, are much more likely to go berserk — barking instructions and game tactics to their offspring, often in direct contradiction to what the kids have been taught by their coaches.
Here's all I can say: Been there, done that, but hopefully I've outgrown the T-shirt.
Go to any youth soccer tournament and look for the best team in any age group; I'll guarantee you'll spot a little knot of wide-eyed dads I call the "Testosterone Triangle."
They will be standing together — not sitting, because no deck chair can contain their nervous energy — and their body language will speak volumes. One guy will be literally chewing his fingernails, another will be whispering a scouting report on the opposition, and still another will be shouting to his 9-year-old to "focus."
All of them will be using crazy, bend-at-the-waist body English every time a player takes a shot. If it's a miss, they will grimace in unison. If the shot is true, high fives will break out.
These dads believe in myths surrounding youth sports and here, I've noticed, are some of their most common, unforced errors.
* Myth: Our kids must be really good because we win almost every tournament.
* Fact: Your coach probably chose these tournaments precisely because he knew the competition was weak. Truly elite teams, on the other hand, consistently try to punch above their weight class.
* Myth: My 9-year-old is clearly one of the best natural soccer players in the city for his age. His future — in life and in sports — must be very bright.
* Fact: Maybe so, but you won't really know what his future holds until he reaches puberty and passes ninth-grade algebra. Youth sports are filled with great elementary school athletes who don't make the high school varsity team. Today's stud can be tomorrow's sub.
* Myth: It's my job as a parent to keep my child focused and aggressive.
* Fact: No, your job as a parent is to keep your kid safe and sane. So please back off a bit.
* Myth: Travel soccer is an investment in my child's future, so they'd better take it seriously.
* Fact: Cool your jets, Dad. Only about 10 percent of boys and girls who play soccer in high school make the leap to college soccer. If you want to raise the odds above 20 percent, have your child take up archery or ice hockey. Better yet, lower your college scholarship expectations to zero and have another bagel from the complimentary breakfast bar at the Hampton Inn.
* Myth: Sports teaches life skills.
* Fact: To a point, but don't forget that losing is just as valuable as winning. Think of your own adult life: Which has been the most useful to you, resiliency or a winning attitude? Chances are it's a push.
* Myth: My kid just plays for fun. He can keep things in perspective.
* Fact: Really? I recently witnessed a 9-year-old kiss the field after a win and another kiss the team patch on his shirt after a victory. I found this mildly disturbing.
* Myth: Don't worry, I'm an adult and I've got things under control.
* Fact: Then why do you jump around and celebrate wildly after your child's team scores again in 10-0 game? You won't see your error until your own child is on the unfortunate end of that 10-0 score. Then it will suddenly, and immediately, become clear to you.
* Myth: My child is learning good sportsmanship.
* Fact: Are you sure? I saw a T-shirt at a soccer tournament last week making fun of the post-game handshake line: "Good game. Good Game. Good game. I hate you. Good game. Good game. Good game."
LOL. Sometimes the truth is just, plain funny.
So, everyone, please stay calm and play on.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-645-8937.