We shouted (encouragingly) as the players ran down the pitch. (If you didn’t know, pitch is the proper name for a soccer field. One of the many things I learned this season.) Coaches were giving instructions, the kids working together as a team to move the ball into their attacking half. As the scene unfolded, one of the players took a shot on goal, and everyone collectively held their breath. We watched the ball sail into the net and erupted into cheers. The beautiful game in an ugly time.
Being a parent during the pandemic has been stressful and at times depressing. Activities canceled, life milestones altered. Just recently does it feel like we’ve settled into something that resembles normal. Schedules have started to fill back in. Dance and tumbling came back first. All with strict safety requirements. Reduced class sizes, masks, temperature checks and more. One of the more common measures we’ve encountered is parents and spectators aren’t allowed in. This has been extremely tough on me personally as I cherished watching my daughter dance or achieve a new tumbling milestone. Afterwards maybe getting a word of encouragement or advice from her instructor that we can take home and work on. She’ll be our only child, and I’ll never get another chance at this. Now I watch her walk through a door and am unable to see her at all. Video is offered depending on the activity, but it’s not the same. Quite often we rely on her feedback alone to see how the activity went.
Last spring we signed up for a new soccer league being brought to Tiffin. It was exciting as the organization is well known nationwide for youth soccer. Unfortunately and understandably the pandemic caused that season to be canceled. With dance canceled along with everything else spring activity wise it wasn’t a surprise, but it still stung.
Fast forward to the fall. A small group of volunteers, largely composed of a family from the Tiffin and Amana area, put on a herculean effort to hold a fall soccer season. They focused on protecting players and spectators while continuing to teach soccer amid a difficult time. Masks were required for spectators, to and from fields, etc. Temperature checks were to be done before games. Social distancing meant parents were to sit on a single side of the field, players on the other side. Practices were to be held on the same day and games shortened in turn so that contact tracing would be feasible, if that situation were to arise. Participants were to exit immediately after games and not arrive too early. Most participants respectfully complied with the mask mandate and social distancing was observed. The volunteer crew kept on the messaging and mask requirements throughout the season. There will always be outliers unfortunately, especially with masks, but generally speaking I found the requirements were respected.
This group was serious in teaching their participants fundamental soccer. At the parents meeting they needed volunteers, which in these times is harder to come by as there is increased risk. My husband, who had said he wasn’t going to coach as he wanted to sit back and watch, volunteered. Then next thing I know he’s also refereeing. I shouldn’t expect anything less from a Veteran to step up when help is needed. We both decided due to my employment and risk that I would not volunteer as to avoid any potential quarantine outcomes. By end of year I was signed up to be a team parent, so I can help in areas where I won’t be required to expose myself to a potential quarantine. Thankfully, a quarantine situation never materialized.
Diving in headfirst, we learned soccer as parents who had never played. A streaming package later, soccer somehow became a fixture on the TV. My husband and daughter were outside as part of PE and Recess for virtual school, running through drills. As we studied the game, we talked about rules more than those other depressing topics. It gave us an outlet from the pandemic and other issues for 7 weeks. Saturday became a day to look forward to as we’d be able to get out of the house, see other people cheer and watch the kids for just a little bit, play a game and not worry about the unknowns we face. We moved our pre-game activities to our backyard. We played music like normal and had fun before games. During the games she’d shout instructions to her teammates, and it was great to see her getting some socialization she had missed due to our decision to start her in virtual school. The positivity from soccer was infectious.
Circling back to the beginning. The player who scored that goal I talked about earlier? My small but mighty girl (queue baby Yoda thoughts), nearly two years younger and a few head at minimum shorter than the boys she was battling, had scored a goal. Her fists pumped in the air like she scored a goal in a major competition. The smile beamed on her face. At the end of the game she ran into my husband’s arms and he lifted her off the ground in celebration. Walking back to the car, she talked about how amazing it was to score a goal and how happy her dad was. She told the coach/player trainers with immense pride she scored her first goal. It was a beautiful and emotional moment. I never realized how much more possible it was to cherish seeing an in-person event of my child, but this pandemic has made that so. In those moments, the pandemic was ever-present but relegated to the background. The kids playing the beautiful game took center stage.
I’ll miss fall soccer. I’m grateful for what it did for my family to alleviate some of the pandemic strain. Our daughter has decided to play futsal (indoor soccer) this winter and participate in some developmental practice. No spectators will be allowed for these, more of the same. Masks will be required for the players. Protecting everyone the best we can during this time while not shutting down any hope of activities for potentially years to come. I’ll yearn for spring, in hopes we can hold an outdoor season and get another chance at a weekly eyes-on 60 minutes of responsible soccer in this new world.