In Praise of Football

This is a blog I never thought I would write.

I was going to have daughters.  As a rampant feminist in my 20s I had ordered girl children only.  I was going to be colouring in butterflies with gel pens, going to ballet classes, and brushing hair into plaits.  I can do all of these things.

So when the very scary doctor in Madrid told me I was having a ‘nino’ I thought he had got it wrong.  ‘Nina?’.  ‘No, nino’.  So Kezia (Kizzy for short) was never born and I am the proud mother of 2 very boyish boys.

Which means I have had to learn about football.  It was either that or not be involved in their lives and interests.

I was speaking to a dad friend about how his wife felt left out as she didn’t like football and so didn’t go to any of the training and matches he and his son went to.  That could have been me.

I have to confess that I bitterly resented the first couple of year or standing in muddy fields without a coffee van in site (that is such a missed business opportunity – someone could make a fortune selling hot drinks to soggy parents on local pitches over the weekends).  I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the rules or the excitement and I hated the cold and wet and rain that normally accompanied the matches..and don’t even get me started on washing white (whose idea was it to have a white kit??) kit covered in mud.

Llanymynech Football Club

I felt resentment when I was resisting what life was making really obvious to me- that life now involves football whether I like it or not.  As soon as I accepted that football was going to be very much part of my life, the resentment went and I could just get on with it.

  • What do you resent?
  • What are you resisting?
  • What is it you need to accept?
  • Imagine yourself accepting it..how could you make it a positive in your life?

But now…get me..I know the offside rule, I know what a corner is.  I know what ‘man on’ means (even though I don’t shout it myself) and I know not to shout ‘well done love’ (the other mums coached me out of it as being embarrassing).

I’ve made new friends who also stand at the side lines year in, year out and I even quite enjoy watching the odd YouTube clip of great goals – Ronaldino really does make the ball stick to his feet!

But most of all I’m really grateful to football for all that it brings my kids:

  • Both of them are super fit and spend more time outside in all weathers.
  • They would rather kick a ball than watch TV.
  • They know so many countries and flags from their Match Attack collections.
  • The son who hates school and doesn’t find sitting still and shutting up easy was described as the kids who was the most determined and committed at his football prize giving this year.  He feels like a success at football and is a real team player.  Football is the place he has developed his passion, confidence, commitment and courage – no one is too big for him to tackle.
  • It is something the boys do together..endlessly..it is a common language and a common activity which keeps them close (between fights).
  • Their various team leaders and coaches are great adult male role models; kind, motivating, firm and encouraging – and of course fit themselves.
  • They have both made so many friends over and above those they have at school.  This first year in secondary school Eldest Son has hardly seen his primary school friends but spends most of his break and lunch times playing football with members of his club and other football heads.
  • Eldest son gets status from being good at football – it makes him feel good and he gets respect for his playing.

 

  • How do you and your kids get your self-esteem?
  • How can you do more of the things that bring you and them that feeling of success?

When I was doing my PhD I interviewed kids who had been excluded. Most of them were boys. Some of them were hardcore and often got into trouble at school and some just overstepped the line once.  When I talked to the kids who didn’t usually get into trouble there was often a sporting story behind them.  They had friends who smoked and drank but they didn’t because of their sport.

Mothers of girls worry about girls and men, girls and sex, girls and being out alone at night, girls and inequality in the workplace.  Mothers of boys worry about fights, drinking, smoking, drugs, driving too fast, treating girls badly.

Over the 25 plus years of teaching I have seen that the sporty boys get their kudos and sense of belonging from their sport so it not only keeps them fit but keeps them out of gangs (they have a team instead) and they get to take their risks on the pitch or track so don’t seem to do it with drugs, crime or fast cars.

I’ve also seen the same phenomena with the musical kids who get their sense of belonging in bands and their self -esteem from their playing.  They too get to be cool and take risks, safely.

Not all kids are sporty or musical but the parenting principle is the same – find what it is that your kids love doing and support it all the way….put yourself out in the cold, wet and dark and learn about stuff you never wanted to know about so that you can enter their world with them.

I remember one of my cousins driving her son to basketball and ice hockey for many many weekends and evenings to venues over an hour from home.  He didn’t go on to become a professional basketball  or ice hockey player but he has gone on to be a fit, confident, relaxed young man who snow boards, surfs, and loves the outdoors. He is also a young man who has a great relationship with his mum.

  • Just take a minute to recognise and appreciate all the things you do for your kids – I know you do loads. Just take a time to list all that you do to boost and support them.  Sometimes we are so busy being a parent that we don’t get time to give ourselves a pat on the back for all that we do – so now is the time

And what’s in it for me?  How do I avoid becoming a football martyr?  I’ve met some great parents in the mud and at the cup-givings.  I get to be involved in the boys’ worlds and know their friends.  I sometimes get time during training to see friends or got for a swim.

But most of all I love to see the boys thrive rather than just survive.

  • What do you get from supporting your kids do what they love?

Football has been the vehicle through which we have talked about racism, careers, health, success, passions and strengths. Football is the place the boys have learnt that a mistake is not a failure…just something to improve on.

In Rome by a cathedral, in Croatia in the town square and in Greece by the beach..football has been the lingua franca which has connected groups of kids and transcended language, class, and cultural barriers. Not bad going for a small round object.

Thank you football.

Lingua franca
Lingua franca
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