My daughter recently played the last soccer game of her career.
Yippee! No more practices! No more tournaments! No more long drives to obscure fields! No more tiny black turf pellets all over the car!
No more selfish surges of pride watching her athletic achievements. No more thrilling victories.
My daughter is a senior in high school and has no intention of playing in college. And so, thirteen years of soccer ended in one final game.
Her team lost.
Since most soccer seasons end in some sort of tournament play, a loss is to be expected. Only a handful of players get to win their league or division or state championship in one final game. Sadly, for most players their last game is more a question of when and where they will lose.
Oh well. At least some of the girls on the other team have a chance for another last game.
My daughter started playing soccer when she was four. The Sunday youth games were sardine-packed on a large open grassy area with tiny red cones marking off miniature playing fields lined with screaming parents hopelessly coaching their kids which way to run.
It was the only time I can remember when excitable parents didn’t yell at the referees. I’m not even sure there were referees then. I certainly don’t remember any four-year-olds getting yellow carded.
For a long time my daughter’s soccer matches were indistinguishable from games of kick the can. They were nothing more than a wadling herd of young tots running willy nilly after a ball that seemed to arbitrarily change directions. A lot of the kids stopped to pick dandelions.
But each year she played more form came to the game. The girls developed foot skills, they learned how to pass, how to look for open space, how to give and go, how to one touch the ball, how to ignore their parents yelling useless instruction from the sidelines.
And each year the practices became longer and more frequent. The games against other towns grew further apart. The competition turned more impactful. The coaches more demanding. The player expectations more intense.
All of a sudden, there was no longer any room for dandelion pickers, even if they still wanted to play.
She had to run to keep up. Soccer camps, indoor winter leagues, training seminars, summer leagues. It was an entire industry of competitive youth soccer designed to take money from parents like me who wanted to ensure their kids remained competitive in an increasingly competitive sport.
But for active girls like my daughter, who loved to run hard, the endless opportunities to play soccer were both fun and rewarding.
As she progressed from year to year, I was of little help. I know almost nothing about the game. I still think the pitch belongs to baseball. And despite a remarkable ability to drink beer, as a soccer fan, I wouldn’t even make a good hooligan.
But thankfully there were coaches to guide and train her. At first, they were ordinary dads like me who possessed qualities I didn’t have. Qualities like athletic ability, patience, and the willingness to deal with opinionated parents. Later, the coaches were experienced players who really understood the game.
But there was one thing I was good at that helped her career along. Driving. Because in addition to shin guards and a good pair of soccer cleats, young players also need car rides to play the game. And to get to some remote fields, car rides in off-road vehicles.
In those early years I had only one ambition for my daughter. I wanted her to experience the joy of team play when she arrived at high school. While other parents talked strategically about the various paths to college athletic scholarships, I just wanted my daughter to make her high school team.
If she had any soccer ambitions after that, well, she would just have to drive herself.
Ultimately all of her years of dedication, hard work, and natural talent, paid off. With the help of my driving, she did make her high school team. And she played a lot. As a starter. And ultimately, as a team captain. And she enjoyed all of the excitement and pride and camaraderie that comes with playing on an established, organized team.
Until her game clock ran down to 00:00.
She cried when it was over. They were tears of joy and tears of loss and maybe even tears of relief.
But the tears did not last long. Because lacrosse practice starts soon. And there is still time to run hard toward another last game.
I guess that after thirteen years as a soccer dad, I still have time to play my last game too.
In a remote field somewhere picking dandelions.