When push comes to shove

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The danger of writing about your life, yourself and your family is that you are always in grave danger of becoming one of “those moms.” You know the ones.

Your children are always beautiful, brilliant, gifted. Maybe Garrison Keillor can get away with that when writing about Lake Woebegone, but here in the real world we eat a lot more humble pie.

Our children have played soccer since kindergarten. Throughout the years they have been taught the importance of good sportsmanship. My motto is “If you played fair and had fun, no matter the score, you won.”

As you can imagine, a lot of people roll their eyes at that.

Contact

Soccer, it should be noted is wrongly perceived to be a non-contact sport. This is a lie. Soccer is very much a contact sport.

Still, nearly every soccer match in America will be behest by loved ones on the sidelines screaming about tripping or shoving and getting agitated that officials aren’t calling a foul every time a player stumbles.

In all honesty, getting worked up every time your child is jostled in soccer is like standing on the sidelines at a football game demanding referee action each time your player is tackled.

Standards

Still, there are standards in every sport and soccer is no different. Pushing and shoving in order to make an honest play for the ball is generally accepted.

Knocking someone down for the heck of it is generally frowned upon, even by die-hard fans.

Recently, I was unable to attend one of my son’s soccer games as I was attending our daughter’s match roughly two time zones away. This happens a lot in recreational leagues.

You are informed that your game will be held far a field and, oh by the way, you’ll receive the currency exchange rate when you get there. Fortunately, Mr. Wonderful was on hand to cheer our son on.

Shy

Our son, it should be noted, is so shy that we were told to wait another year before he started kindergarten for fear he would rarely, if ever, speak up or assert himself. One of the many reasons we started him in soccer years ago was to bring him out of his shell.

Sport is by its nature a competitive activity — you are trying to perform at a level that is better than the other people doing it with you at the same time.

If both players are doing this well, defending, deflecting and moving the ball, they are bound to come to see each other as each other’s nemesis.

Animosity

Apparently, throughout the game, our son and another player developed animosity. It happens.

As I heard about it later, one moment our son and the opponent were speeding up the field, shoulder to shoulder, feet flying in pursuit of control of the ball. Suddenly there was a jostle, a tangle, a blur of motion.

Then came the opponent, prone on the ground. Our son stood nearby, panting, defiant. Apparently, our boy who wouldn’t say “boo,” had picked that exact moment in time to assert himself.

And then came the screaming from the sidelines. Our son, they said, had pushed their player. Opposing spectators began to shout directly at my child, with one poised just inches from his face.

Now, I am not of the “my child can do no wrong” camp. I am, however, of the “let the officials handle it” camp.

My absence from this match is the only reason this tale doesn’t contain the lines “and after the bodies were removed, Mrs. Seabolt was taken into custody.”

No foul

The referee rushed in to the fray. No harm, no foul, was called.

Mr. Wonderful, a coach himself, was mortified. Our son, raised better than that, had morphed from shy but solid player to soccer-hooligan in a matter of moments. Other parents rushed to justify the push.

“That kid was all over him.”

“The other guy started it.”

While we appreciate the gesture, the message was wrong. No foul perhaps, but very much harm. We don’t condone unsportsmanlike behavior. Period. Our son was wrong to shove.

As our pride and joy left the field post-game, his father was there to meet him. He salved our son’s obvious shame not with “You did good son” or “You really showed him” but rather a blunt, “You should have been thrown out of the game.”

Good sportsmanship

Those long commutes to far away games do come in handy. Father and son spoke, at length, about good sportsmanship and bad behavior all the way home.

Sports can teach a lot of important life lessons. Teamwork, commitment, spirit. In life we teach, “Be fair, play nice and share.” In sports we say “Go, fight, win!”

The real challenge isn’t the final score, but teaching that when push comes to shove, fighting to win won’t, in the end, feel much like a win at all.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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