July 2, 2013

Football and life (or - a lesson in frustration)

Football has been a part of our life for 8 years now. It is not showing any signs of going anywhere, and I had to resign myself to the fact that football is here to stay. It came into my life hand in hand with Ron, who chose it as his favourite thing even before he knew it existed. His first word was ball (Yon's first word was "no", but that's a different story), his favourite toys were footballs, and the moment he learned to walk was the moment he learned to kick a ball. He hasn't stopped ever since.
Orli, Just Breathe - Football and life (or - a lesson in frustration)
Ron at one year, with his beloved first red football
People said he will grow out of it, they said every one goes through fazes in life, they said children don't choose what they will be when they are two years old. We said he's not people and he's not everyone, he's Ron. And Ron doesn't change his mind.
We didn't really do much to encourage that love of football at the beginning, because in Israel football was less big and less mainstream than here, because Hidai preferred basketball, and because I preferred he be a no-sports child. Didn't do us much good, because Ron doesn't change his mind, and his mind was set. Maths and football, that's what he wanted, so that's what he got. As he was very young and football "training" in any afternoon club in Israel don't start before kids are six years old, all we did at that stage was let him play outside and wear football shirts.
Gibralterians, on the other hand, take their football very seriously, even kids football, and for the first time we needed to think about the road ahead - a team, a league, a commitment. I won't lie to you, for me it was a very tough decision. I didn't want Ron in any "professional" sport setting, didn't want him in a team, didn't want to push him. As I see it once your son enters a team you automatically become one of those parents. You know the type - the pushy, competitive, you'll-be-bigger-than-Messi parent. You can hide it, you can pretend it's not there, but deep inside you're it. I didn't and still don't think that amount of pressure is good for kids. I am against the trend of entering kids into talent shows, against tweeting about who will be the next star out of the Under 15s, etc. I am against training three times a week, against the amount of competitiveness it brings out in people (okay, me). I am against it all.
But I had no desire to stand in my child's way, so when Ron wanted to try out for a team, he did. And when he got into a team, we went to every training session, we stood on the lines in every match, and while doing that I learned some things about football. I guess you might be able to apply them to every sport, but I can't because I don't know sports. I am sticking with football.
Orli, Just Breathe - Football and life (or - a lesson in frustration)
I learned that there are worst things he could do.
A team sports forces you to learn how to work in a team, it forces you to be happy even if someone else scored the goal, it forces you to pass the ball to someone else to score, it forces you to understand what is the meaning of "a chain is as strong as its weakest link".
A sport forces you to lose and teaches you about dealing with losing, about going on the pitch to face a stronger team, about fighting to the end, about continuing even though you are down 1:0, it teaches you about disappointments, and about those days where you did everything right and still lost.
Football teaches you about discipline, about commitment, about doing your best every time you step on the pitch.
Professional athletes, including football players, work hard to get there. They train every day, do every move a thousand time, they put in each and every one of those 10,000 hours, they learn to deal with all the pressure of having so many people looking at you, criticising you, admiring you.
I could think of worst things he could want to be.
When we moved to London we searched for a team for Ron, but apparently Londoners aren't as serious about Under 9s as Gibralterians, and we couldn't find him a team we liked. We decided to stop looking and not commit him to anything, and enrolled him in an Arsenal after-school club, which we were very unhappy with, because they did not work on any of these things with the kids, and I am not in the market for babysitters.
Ron ended up with being invited to train with the school team (officially open to years 4-6), and with the Arsenal Double Club at school (also open only for years 4-6). So he gets his twice a week football fix. But for this year, he hasn't been in a league. Or a team.
Last week I got him invited to a Saturday training in Vale Farm Sports Center, as part of the Love Cravendale Loyalty Scheme. I don't really get why this lesson will be in a loyalty scheme, but there you have it. For us it meant an hour on the tube, and though we weren't sure will make it, we've made it on time (9 am on a Saturday. What I won't do for this blog). I have to admit, the pitch is gorgeous, and the coach (a very likeable Italian guy who supports Spain. Go figure) was attentive and nice, and all the kids seemed to love him. Ron had a good time, like he always has when on a football pitch, and Yon played with an imaginary animal or two. Like he always does when he is on a football pitch.
But that's not the point. The point is that while standing there, watching the kids running around in a straight line again and again, watching Ron become frustrated because what they are doing isn't what he is good at, it once again made us examine football in a different light.
Orli, Just Breathe - Football and life (or - a lesson in frustration)
Standing there in the wind watching kids doing drills it hits you - this is our test as parents. Ron is getting older and we are at a crossroad. We have to decide which parents we want to be. Are we going to be the parents who let their children quit just because they don't want to work hard, or because they don't succeed in something? Are we going to be the parents who make their child practice for hours on end? Are we the parents that will drive and force their children to more and more? How can we find a middle ground? Why would we even try?
Because it's not about the football. It's about life. It's the question of what you believe in, and so that was the moment in which I broke one of my own pre-parenting fantasies, of never being that parent, and understood that my child needs me to be that parent. He needs to understand that even though he loves football there are bits and pieces he won't like and he still has to do them; he needs to understand that you don't quit because you didn't succeed or didn't want to work hard. You work hard and succeed and then you decide if you want to quit.
He needs to learn all that football has to teach him - hard work, accepting failure, falling down and standing back up, repeating again and again, dedication, not giving up.
He needs to learn self-control and dealing with frustration. Because he usually doesn't have to deal with any of those. You see, Ron is very good at everything. It's not bragging, it's a fact. He doesn't give up, he just becomes the best, very quickly. but on those rare occasions he faces not being able to be the best after a few tries, he needs to learn how to not get too frustrated that he can't keep going.
Are we bad parents? Are we making a mistake? Is it too much to ask of a child of 8?
Are we giving in to our need for him to be excellent in everything?
Are we putting too much pressure on him?
Or if we won't, will he wake up some twenty years from now saying we weren't strong enough for him?
I don't know the answer. Life is funny like that. The answer will come one day, but not today. Today is all about what we can teach him. Today is ours to lead the way for him.
So when he finished the training session, we talked to him about it and told him that from now on he has to train for 20 minutes a day at home, regardless of what he does outside the house.
In response he said he is fine with it, ignored us for four hours, and built himself a detailed training program composed of ten drills, two minutes each.



  1. He sounds completely dedicated! What is it about boys and football though? When we moved to Bavaria, my 6 year old decided he would support FC Bayern. My husband's face at him sporting his new red strip was a picture, definitely not impressed! :D

    1. He is dedicated. Fully dedicated. So dedicated it's scary... I can't even imagine my husband's face if he decides to change a team now...
      Like someone once told me - you can change your work, your wife and even your religion. You can't change your football team.
      Men. go figure.

  2. My youngest son loves football, which is a shock after 2 girls and neither of us parents liking the game. We play lots of other sport with all three children, but as soon as he can, he's back kicking the football again. I think its ingrained.

    Had to smile at your description of "pushy" parents. Eldest has just started climbing lessons and I am now encountering the climbing version of the breed. Who knew?

    1. I know, we had a shock too. How could that happen to us?! Football? But we've gotten used to it. I mean, really what else could you do?
      I am not sure though that I could have encouraged climbing with all my heart.. I am too much of a "he is going to fall down and break something" parent... Good luck!

  3. I have a football mad 5 year old. It is all he talks about. He is insistent he will play football as a career - but only for Man U lol
    Found you on the MMWBH

    1. Ha ha.. Mine is an Arsenal future player :)
      Thanks for visiting me, and for commenting! xx

  4. What a dedicated young man! Great that he has a passion!

    Thanks for linking up with this weeks Mad Mid-Week Blog hop! xx

    1. I think it's more of an obsession than a passion, but we're going with it :)

  5. Always tough to know whether to enocurage, and how much (at what stage does it become a push), or whether to let them find their own feet. Sounds like he really has a passion for football. And you are right, it's a great training for life, not just sport.As long as it's the playing, and not just the winning, wouldn't worry too much about becoming one of those parents!

    1. We always tell him it's about playing, and not winning. But I can't lie, it is somewhat about winning :)
      Thanks for your comment, and for making me feel less like that parent. He informed me yesterday, after reading the post, that I am not pushing him at all. So there is still hope!


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