When my three-year-old daughter and I had our first soccer practice (technically it was just her practice but she insisted that I be a full participant too), I didn’t realize how unprepared she was for her first “organized” sport. My homeschool coaching attempts in the weeks preceding her practice focused on kicking, running and making sure she was aware of the financial flexibility a soccer scholarship could provide us. But I should have been teaching her so much less.
The best soccer lesson you can apparently give a three-year-old is to forget everything you know, at least from kickoff until the coolers are ransacked for juice boxes and orange slices. Soccer fields are where the best laid plans to shield children from loss, thieves and kicks to the shin are transformed into a fleeting hope that nobody gets hurt.
In lieu of treating others how you want to be treated and other traditional parenting lessons, here is what your son or daughter needs to know when stepping on the soccer field:
1. Stealing is encouraged.
The golden rule is not in the soccer rulebook. If you pass the ball to your opponent, they will not pass it back. In fact, they will try to take the ball from you whether you want to give it to them or not.
The best defense for defense is better defense. Take the ball from the other team and never share it with them. Treat them exactly how you have always wanted to treat your siblings.
2. Be aggressive. Be, be aggressive.
Taking turns is for warm-ups. Once the whistle blows, embrace the call of the cheerleaders. Be aggressive. Be, be aggressive.
You must want the soccer ball more than the other team. You must want the ball like you want chocolate cake for breakfast and breakfast cereal for dinner. Sure, sitting down and picking grass might look like a great idea when a player on the other team does it. But that is your chance to kick the ball while the other team is down.
3. Everybody can’t win.
When the game is tied, you can’t assume the other team will let the ball go through their legs for a goal like your mom and dad always do. Sometimes, the ball will be kicked through your legs for the winning goal. If it happens, don’t cry. And for that matter, don’t cry if your shoe is untied, if you see a bee, if the game ball isn’t your personal ball, if somebody on the other team bumps into you, if the sun is in your eyes, if you have to go to the bathroom, if you did go to the bathroom but on the field and not in a bathroom, if you kick the ball into the wrong goal or whatever other reason might seem like an appropriate time to cry. It’s not.
4. You might not be the best.
You have been told you are the best, and you are, but not really. The best player on your team isn’t even the best player. Playing your best is an acceptable consolation. Ideally, you should play at 110 percent, which is mathematically possible in sports math only.
5. No hands.
Don’t pick up the ball. When you get home, you can pick up everything you want, especially if it is after yourself. But don’t pick up the ball on the soccer field.
6. Clothing doesn’t need to fit.
Soccer fields are a size-free zone for clothing. Your parents will never tell you your clothes are too big because the smallest jerseys apparently available for three-year-olds are too big for football players, as in adults who wear shoulder pads and not soccer players outside of America. Additionally, don’t be surprised if your soccer socks are longer than your legs. Feel free to use these as scarves when attending professional soccer games.
7. I can’t always help you.
As much as I want to put on the jersey that fits me better than you, I can’t. You must learn to play without me.
I will always be proud. I will always be supportive. I will always be eager to console you or celebrate with you. And to me, you really will always be the best. But you have to set and score your own goals.
You are going to do great, even if it sometimes seems like things aren’t going great. So have fun like only you know how to do. (Winning is also nice, but no pressure.)