If our parents were cryogenically frozen in 1979 and then, through the marvels of science, thawed out on a suburban youth soccer sideline today, there are many things that they might say: What happened to all the station wagons? Why isn’t anyone littering? I sure do love yoga pants!
To this we’d respond that automotive design tastes changed, we’ve become better stewards of our planet and yes, dad, everybody wins with yoga pants. But there’s one question they’d surely ask, confident that it couldn’t be provocative: what’s the score? Oh, how wrong they’d be.
First let me start by saying that I have missed some of the pre-game action. This is because I disagree with Coach Valerie – they invariably are (or sound) British, and never seem to have last names – who wants eight year-old girls on the field a full forty-five minutes before an 8:00 AM kickoff. Forty-five minutes! This isn’t Normandy, people. And for what? Just look at the size of the other team’s striker! She’s a Christine Lahti doppelganger who will rain down goals on us like divine retribution no matter how many times we run that weave drill. Read your Sun Tzu, this one’s already over.
Speaking of Coach Valerie’s English mannerisms, if there is a “most understated” trophy given out at the year-end banquet, whoever saw fit to describe this game simply as “away” on the schedule has my vote. I literally had to leave and re-enter my state to find this distant field, passing through towns with names like South Glove and Pennylover. At one point Siri actually swore at me. Then I had to determine which field among the seventy-five or so in the complex, all covered with blue-jerseyed girls, is ours. All very unsettling in a Children of the Corn kind of way.
Despite all this, I manage to make it to the field before kickoff. And you heard me right, I said field, not pitch. That Anglophilia may buy you some velvet in the rec leagues at Vassar, but this is America and we won when it counted in 1781. So we’ll play your sport, but we’ll call it soccer and we’ll darn well play it on a field. (Don’t get me started on boots, clean sheets or getting booked – why must British soccer terminology sound so kinky?) I apologize for nothing. Vae victis!
But Coach Val glowers at me in particular as she reminds the parent-stragglers of the forty-five minute rule. In hindsight, my blaming it entirely on rogue traffic would have been more convincing had I not advocated with a piping-hot breakfast sandwich in my hand. She says the girls must be there to practice before the game. Practice? Practice what? Moving as a herd until the ball randomly flies out, and then reconvening there? Doesn’t that just sort of happen? The opening credits to Fame took only a minute, and look how much ground those dancers covered! I’m just saying it’s not exactly Olympic Village out there. I mean, Anna Grace’s dad is wearing pajama pants.
So yes, I have missed some of the pre-game action. When I finally have parked my car and arrived at the sideline, we’re ten minutes in so “what’s the score” is a perfectly reasonable question to ask.
“We don’t keep score,” I am icily told. I don’t know this particular parent, but I don’t have to in order to know that she once liked David Mamet, but now doesn’t know what to think.
“Right, right,” I say, lowering my voice, mindful of whatever league overlord must be within earshot. “Seriously,” I whisper conspiratorially, “what’s the score?” Anna Grace’s dad starts to mouth zero-zero, but suddenly the linesman is bearing down the sideline so he clams up, tight as a drum. “I told you. In this league we don’t keep score.”
A better man than I would just smile and go to a happy place in his mind. Walking up 18 on Sunday with a one-foot putt to win at Augusta. Fishing with his son in the Snake River gloaming. But I don’t golf or fish. So I answer.
“I don’t understand. If you don’t keep score, then how do you, you know, keep score?”
Look, it’s not like I’m Ivan Drago’s trainer in Rocky IV or something. I am not raising thoroughbreds who sweat excellence and bleed victory. I just like their activities to have an objective purpose, certainly the ones I had to drive through South Glove to get to. They can ride unicorns on their own time. By keeping score I’m not making victory the be-all, end-all for the girls. Nobody’s talking about stadium steps or high-knees if they don’t bring home the W. I’m just saying that if you don’t keep score, it ain’t soccer, it’s performance art. And what’s so bad about winning, anyway? I don’t know about you, but I sleep better knowing that US Navy SEALs live by an “it pays to be a winner” code rather than “my mission is to be the best me I can be.”
But back to the suburban sideline with my thawed-out parents. No score in soccer? Come on. What’s keeping my kid from pulling up on a run, losing possession and, instead of dropping back on defense, doing that “mime trapped in a box” bit? If parents complained, I would be ready:
“I’m sorry. In her old league, players were encouraged to express themselves.”