Youth Soccer Players – Knock it off!

I was attending my son’s U14 soccer match last week. After about twenty minutes I had seen two players rolling around on the ground grabbing their ankles before jumping up to take a free-kick. Two others clutched their heads in anguish after getting knocked down but were miraculously healed by the sound of a whistle.  So when one of our players cracked an opponent with a pretty heavy (and admittedly late) tackle, I rolled my eyes as the kid thrashed around on the ground clutching his leg.

He stayed down and a parent asked me, “Erik, do you think he’s hurt?” I shrugged and said, “That’s the fifth kid that’s grabbed his leg and the second time that one’s stayed down. I doubt it.”  However, he stayed down. Their coach came to the field and started to check him out. When he took the shoe off, the kid slammed back onto his back, started slapping the ground and screamed.  The place went silent. A parent whispered, “Oh my God,” and I felt like a jerk.  A few seconds later, the player arched his back, leaned his head back and screamed again. I start scanning the the parking lot to see where an ambulance could most easily get access to the field as I assumed this was a broken leg. I swore to stop being so cynical and was embarrassed by the thoughts that went through my head when somebody’s child went down.  However, two minutes later the young man hobbled off the field. Four minutes later he checked back into the game. He played another 30 minutes with no sign of a limp.

Youth soccer players – Knock it off.  This is not about “looking like a man,” changing soccer’s image in America, toughening up, sportsmanship or anything like that.  It is about not scaring the hell out of your parents and the adults charged with keeping you safe.  The faking, or dramatizing, injuries has to stop. This was just an example, but I swear I have seen more kids thrashing on the ground and/or holding their heads.  Their are three people who can stop this.

Players

I know you see the professionals doing this act every night and want to be like them. I get it. I really do.  Professional players reactions are not going to change. I wish they would, but they won’t.  Here’s the thing though.  You are not professional players.

I know you see Neymar, Renaldo, or Mbappe rolling around in anguish in front of tens of thousands of die-hard soccer fans who are glancing up at the giant replay to see if the player has a sliver or has, in fact, been smitten by one of Zeus’ lightning bolts. Those fans get the “drama” of professional soccer. Your parents do not.

There are not tens of thousands of fans. There are maybe 20-30 parents.  There is no Jumbotron for them to see what happened to you.  Most of them are sitting 50-80 yards away in lawn-chairs with impossible sight-lines.  They do not get the “drama” of professional soccer. In fact,  most of them do not even truly understand the off-sides rule. They do not see a multi-millionaire laying on the ground selling the foul. They see their son or daughter that they once rocked to sleep laying in the grass in apparent agony.  It is terrifying.

I am sorry but your parents are probably not die-hard soccer fans. Even if they have a good view of your foot getting stepped on, they may not have been watching. The odds are that Mom was talking about Book Club and Dad had his face in his phone trying to manage his fantasy football team when they heard the whistle blow.  They did not see your foot get raked but looked up to see you crumpled on the ground holding your head.  It is 2018 in America. They do not see an expression of agony. They see a potential concussion and it freaks them out.  Please stop grabbing your head when your ankle is twisted.

Your parents love you and have committed an enormous amount of time, money, and energy to your sport.  Your safety is their number one priority.  Do not toy with that. If you are the 0.1% that makes it pro, go ahead flop around on the ground. Until then, remember you are somebody’s child.

Coaches:

I get competitive advantage, especially as kids advance through the higher leagues.  Players are going to dive. They are going to flop for fouls. Some of you teach/encourage it.  If I am being honest, when I played I had no problem going to ground if I thought I could get a free kick from it.  Like it or not, it is going to happen.

However, there is no need for children to fake or dramatize injury.  Players will need to leave the field when they get banged up. That’s sports. However, if you have someone acting like they are hurt, make them sit for a period of time.  If they are screaming to the heavens, do not put them back in the game.  Again, I am not asking you toughen anyone up or make anyone learn to play hurt.  I am asking you to help stop the stuff the scares parents.

Kids are going to be kids. They are going to panic when something hurts and may need to come off the field. That is no big deal.  You talk to them about concussions.  Tell them from Day One that you take head injuries seriously and anyone suspected of a head injury will not play.  That’s common sense and league policy. Personally, I would tell them that if they are grabbing their head for drama, I am going to treat it like a head injury.  Maybe I am wrong.  You can set the bar for acceptable behavior.

Parents:

We are the ones that can stop this.  We can end it. This is a very simple conversation and one I have had it many times with Ben.   We have talked about “hurt vs injury” from a very young age. He knows that if he thinks he is injured, he is to stay down and I am fine with that.  He also knows that he is never to fake an injury or to engage in injury theatrics.

Ben knows that if he has to check out of a game and re-enters later, I am fine with that. I trust him and his coaches.  He also knows that if he fakes an injury, I will not let him back on the field. I am not doing the “tough-dad” act, but we have had conversations and he knows that if he fakes an injury I will walk across the field and insist that the coach does not let him re-enter.  He knows that if he thrashes around holding his head and pops back up, I will ask his coach to treat it like a concussion and remove him.  It has nothing to do with playing hurt at all. It has everything to do with not cheapening the concern for and the reaction to the next player who might actually be injured.

As parents, we can stop this. We can let our children know that our families do not engage in these behaviors. We can make those rules and we can enforce them. It can be stopped.

As we drove home from the last game, I talked to Ben about the player who was screaming. We talked about how we do not act like that, how it’s bad for the game and just how ridiculous it was. We discussed how there is nothing wrong with being hurt but making sure your respond appropriately. I said, “Beyond looking foolish, can you imagine what the player’s mom and dad felt like when he was laying there screaming? I felt horrible for his parents.  If that was you, I would have been terrified and probably would have climbed the fence to get to you.  Please, do not ever do that to your mom and me.”  He gets it.

We can stop this if we do not accept it.

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Me No Run So Smart

As I am waiting for my half-marathon to start, I am reminded that two things always annoy me at races.  First, “That Guy” is always there.  That Guy wears nothing but a super skimpy speedo or some other ridiculously tiny peace of race gear.  Today’s version of That Guy is wearing super short, baby-blue print shorts that look like they may be tiny pajammy-shorts.  That Guy’s girlfriend/wife/friend is wearing a matching outfit. Irritating.  As usual, That Guy needs to strip down and make a giant production of rubbing suntan lotion all over.  Of course, this is done in a very conspicuous area in the middle of everyone.  He also has to yell at someone way off in the distance at that moment. That’s right, That Guy, we all heard you  and looked over to see your 90% naked body getting oiled up.  By the way, That Guy is always ripped.  I hate That Guy.

Second, I am a nervous pee-er. Before every race, I am running into a Porta-potty every 15 minutes.  I swear that the door is hardly shut before I start thinking, “Uh-oh, I may need to go again soon.”  I’ve trained really hard for this race and really want a PR (Personal Record for you non-runners) which means the Pee Factor is in full-effect.  With half-an hour to start, I again feel the urge but the lines are at least 40 minutes long. There are almost 3,000 runners here and nowhere to duck out. I decided that this is a good time to get over my neuroticism and just deal with it.  I am really focused on breaking that PR and I know that I really do not need the bathroom and am just nervous. I can be such a head-case.

The gun goes off, I get a quarter mile in and realize it’s not just nerves. I have a full blown Bladder Buster situation going on here. The first mile is along desolate roads and with all the trenches to the side and overgrown shrubs, I don’t think I can dash off anywhere. The last thing I need is to roll and ankle and end up laying in some field peeing myself.  Fortunately, I know there is a Porta-Potty at the 1.5 mile mark.. Just as a reach it, a fellow nervous-urinator bursts out of the outhouse.  It’s time to pull a Daytona 500 Piss-Stop.  Time me.  Forty seven seconds later, I explode out of the blue-plastic door and start trying to make up some time.  Go ahead and remember that number.  Forty sevan seconds.

Four miles into the 13.1 mile race, my foot starts killing me.  It’s been a mess since Ragnar (Read me and notice That Guy was there too) and getting worse.  At mile five, it’s starting to become a real issue and I decide that this is my retirement race. I am frustrated with the foot and just upset with the realities of aging. I spend the next mile mentally writing my retirment blog.  I’ll need to talk about the physical benefits of running  but also all the fun times I have had.  Gotta mention the people too. The running community is really cool.  By mile 6, I am about 70% certain that I am running on a broken foot or at least some type of stress fracture.  This half-marathon is on a beautiful course along a stunning bay in Northern Michigan. I pull over, break out my phone and take a few pictures of the view. Definitely need to put those in the retirement blog.

I slog through the next 2 miles and stop again at the 8-mile-marker. I let myself walk for about forty seconds. I’m not spent, just frustrated and lacking any competitive drive. I make sure to thank a couple veterans that are watching the race.  I don’t care what your politics are, those men and women gave up big chunks of their lives and saw things that nobody deserves to see.  You are not compromising your beliefs or politics by saying “Thank you.” They deserve at least that.  As I decide to get it going again, I hear a spectator mention some buff-dude in tiny pajama shorts running with someone in a matching outfit.  That Guy is out there and That Guy is close.  That’s all I needed to hear. I am going to wreck the last five miles

By the 9.5 mark, I am right behind That Guy. I am having so much fun reeling him in.  That Guy is fading big time and dumping tons of water on himself.  His soaked shorts are now pretty much transparant and there is no way I am staying behind that. I pass him right at the 10 mile marker and know that there is no way I will let That Guy catch me.

The rest of the race is awesome. I spend a good chunk of it laughing at myself.  I can be such a petty little jerk but stuff like that keeps me going on my races.  Honestly, I really needed the opportunity to bury someone who annoyed me.  Maybe it’s wrong, but it helped shut out everything else and keep the legs moving.

This course hooks up with the marathon course that I have run a couple times (Yeah, I hit my goal and I ain’t ever doing that again) and I enjoy seeing some landmarks from my marathon.  Hey, there’s the mailbox I had to use to stand up after my legs went out.  Oops, that’s where Hip Tattoo hit the ground. I wonder what happend to her. Here’s where the race-official threatened to pull me off the course because I could not run/walk a straight line.    Good times.  It is pretty nice to be able to cruise through areas that were marathon-hell.

As I hit the last quarter mile, I realize that I have been so distracted with my bladder, my foot, and That Guy that I have barely paid any attention to my watch. I round the last corner and see the clock.  I have missed the PR I trained so hard for by 20 stupid seconds.  That is 1.53 lousy seconds/mile.  I literally pissed away my PR.  I immediately rage-delete the stupid pictures I stopped to take.

A lot of people have asked me why I did not just pee my shorts and keep going. Simply put, that is disgusting.  Maybe if I have a scholarship on the line.  Maybe if I could win some big money. Maybe if my kid’s life depended on it.  The fact is, I’m just a fortsexy-year-old man trying to stay in shape and beat some personal records.  Nobody but me cares at all and that is not worth running 12 miles in pee-soaked clothes.  Never considered it and never will. Frankly, I am surprised so many people have asked.

I guess I am OK with how it went. When I was actually running, I actually crushed my PR but it does not count. Poor pre-race/race management blew it. At least, it was not poor training or just being unable to hit that pace anymore. Me just no run so smart.

My foot’s not broken. The podiatrist’s quote was, “You beat the shit out of that foot.” I have taken a few weeks off and will ease myself back into training.  I do not think I can live with missing my PR because of bathrooming and pouting.  I will give it another shot if my foot holds up. I think it will.

At least That Guy didn’t beat me.