I s the soccer frenzy in Joco a column topic? my editor asked in an email.
By SARAH SMITH NESSEL
Special to The Star
That’s how I found out there’s a soccer frenzy in Joco, where I have lived for 17 years in blissful ignorance of all sports.
It’s not easy being a non-fan. Most people who dislike sports eventually buckle under the social pressure and try to fit in. They pretend to be excited about the start of the Chiefs season, complain about how awful the Royals are, and on one Saturday every May, suddenly profess a deep and abiding interest in all things thoroughbred.
Not me. Other than an occasional glance at figure skating or gymnastics, which are far too awesome to be considered sports, anyway, I can go years without viewing, reading about or discussing athletic competition of any kind.
For decades, this approach to life worked just fine. I saved thousands of dollars by not purchasing tickets or pay-per-view, and no weekends of my life have been lost to watching anyone chase, kick, throw, swing at or run with a ball.
Then I became a Johnson County mother, and the playing field shifted.
As in, now I notice the playing field. Or rather, the hundreds of playing fields. What’s the farthest you can drive in this county without passing one? A mile? Two? It wasn’t until I became a parent that it even registered that these were almost all soccer fields, and that soccer is something Good Johnson County Parents sign their tots up for before said tots are even completely finished with diapers. I was vaguely aware that the Overland Park Soccer Complex was considered the finest such thing in the U.S., and I’ve also recently become aware that the Major League Soccer All-Star Game was played just last week at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
I even know that the KC area is considered one of the most enthusiastic soccer communities in the world — well, at least the part of the world that calls it “soccer.”
So it’s not that I’m completely clueless. I’m just completely indifferent.
Unlike approximately 99 percent of Joco parents, I’ve never even considered putting my son in any type of team sport. That’s not because I dislike them so much, but simply because I know — and he agrees — that he is not and never will be suited to them. One of his biggest accomplishments this summer was simply being able to stand in the vicinity of some sort of ballgame at his day camp without whining about it. (He’s way ahead of me.)
Naturally, everyone assumes that my sports aversion is what’s causing the problem. That assumption is based on two fallacies: One, that disliking sports is a problem to begin with, and two, that kids will gravitate toward any activity their parents enthusiastically endorse and model.
My take: Disliking sports and being honest about it builds character, because it teaches you to resist peer pressure on a grand societal scale. As for that second fallacy, I cannot even begin to tell you how enthusiastically I endorse and model the activities of reading books and eating vegetables. My son firmly refuses to gravitate toward printed materials or leafy greens.
Granted, kids playing sports can be adorable, especially when they’re tiny kids. Just last week, we drove by a soccer game or match or whatever you’re supposed to call it, and seeing a bunch of preschoolers out there randomly crashing into one another and jumping into a pile made my hardened anti-sports heart soften just a teeny bit. “Look at them!” I squealed to my husband. “They’re having so much fun, and they don’t even know what they’re supposed to be doing.” Because clearly they were, and didn’t.
Those kids were living in the moment, and it made me a bit sad to think that in a few short years, the shouts of encouragement from the sidelines might turn into shouts of derision and abuse, because the reports I hear on this topic never seem to change or grow less frequent.
Whatever happened to the days when, instead of living vicariously through their kids, parents used youth sports programs as an excuse to drop them off at games and go enjoy an hour or two of peace? In my own youth-sports days (which admittedly were few and not noteworthy), I wouldn’t have been proud to see my parents in the stands. I would have been mortified.
Being blessed with a son who dislikes sports as much as I do, I’m unlikely to ever be in a position to confront one of those sidelines-screaming lunatics, which is kind of a shame. I love to call people out when they behave like monsters.
But I also love lazy weekend days, practice-free weeknights and closets devoid of that eau de locker room fragrance. I love that my son stays fit and active without the threat of being humiliated by a coach or a parent with arrested development. I love that he competes only with himself, and that he follows his passion, which is art, not athletics.
Life may be the only game he ever plays, but I think he’ll score pretty well.
Freelancer Sarah Smith Nessel writes The Bubble every other week.