Lifestyles columnist Gary Brown takes a look at young athletes and how the game - and the parents - is different.

Yellow and blue flags flew at the top of small soccer goals at each end of a short field used by kindergarten-age athletes. The colored banners attempted to keep young players from kicking a ball into the wrong goal.

“There was one time when they scored for the other team, and then the other team turned around and scored for our team,” recalled a parent. “A guy on the sidelines said "This is the best soccer game I ever saw; they’re helping each other!’ ”

Moments after the conversation, the yellow team scored in the blue team’s goal. Parents of both colors clap.

A newcomer to Saturday youth soccer, I wondered about the score.

“Eh, they don’t really keep score,” a grandmother explained, “because they’re all winners.”

Crossing Generations

I attended the season’s final game of the grandson of friends. Years ago, I attended athletic activities of their children. I’m a second-generation spectator. My goal in life is to live long enough to root for their great-grandchildren.

This particular grandson’s name was Ethan. He was wearing a blue jersey that reversed to yellow in other competitions. I gave him an encouraging knuckle punch when we arrived, and asked him the name of his team.

“The Bull-Kings,” he answered.

“That’s not the official name. They don’t even have official names. Officially they’re blue and yellow,” noted his grandmother. But, unofficially, members of the team tried to come up with a name at the beginning of the season. Some wanted Bulls. Some wanted Kings. “So they combined them.”

As play began, a parent rooting for Ethan’s team shouted, “Go, Blue!”

Surprisingly, it was one of the few things yelled. Mothers and fathers are supportive but sort of silent.

“At this level, the parents don’t talk that much,” said Ethan’s father. “But as the age level gets older, it gets more vocal. Right now, it’s just for fun. By the time you get to the big field, it’s blood.”

Coaches were on the field with the players, offering instructions, which sometimes included pointing them in the right direction. At one point it required putting a player’s shoe back on.

The coaches needlessly encouraged their charges. Exhibiting energy is not a problem for players that age. Toss a ball onto the field and they will run after it. Even when play stopped, there was arm-waving and body-spinning.

Inertia often takes the form of fidgeting.

Every so often, a coach sent a player off the field and beckoned for another to enter play.

“They rotate the kids in and out, so everybody gets the chance to play,” explained my friend, who noted that goals are protected by no goalie, so the players have a better chance to score.

There are other incentives.

“When they come off to the sidelines, they’re more interested in what snacks there are,” explained Ethan’s mom.

Game Over

Each week, a different parent is responsible for bringing the snacks. They are distributed when the game is over, after players slap each others’ hands and rush off without actually knowing the score. They’re all winners, especially if they’re holding a bag of Welch’s Fruit Snacks.

After the game, the coach shook parents’ hands, and wished them good summers.

“Is he going to play in the fall?” he asked one father, nodding at the man’s son.

Recruiting.

Reach Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or
e-mail: gary.brown@cantonrep.com.