What It Really Means to Be a 'Soccer Mom,' for Those Who Don't Get It

soccer ball
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My son has been playing soccer since he was 3 years old. Back then, he went to practice in a pull-up and he ran around the field like a coocoo-bird -- I can still see his puffy diaper butt -- chasing the yellow ball. 

There were no drills or rules. It was basically controlled chaos on the grassy-dirt field. The children kicked the balls into giant nets and tripped over their feet. 

Speaking of feet. There were no cleats back then, just Velcro sneakers and tiny shin guards. I still remember how some kids wore them on their legs with short socks instead of traditional soccer socks. You had to laugh. 

There were 37 bathroom breaks, tears over ball-hogging and lots of water breaks. Every practice ended the same: donut holes and apple juice boxes and giggling.
  • My son often fell asleep in his car seat on the way home. It was great!

    He stayed on this recreation team for six years. As he got older, the training changed: drills, actual games where teams versed each other, but it was still pretty much kickball with a teenage ref who occasionally blew the whistle. Bottom line: it was affordable and non-compete. It was fine for the yesteryears. 
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  • I liked being a soccer mom.

    It was fun to spend fall mornings bundled up in a hoodie, drinking my latte, cheering my little champ on and even at age 9, coordinating the after-game snack -- those tried and true donut holes. I had no idea that I was just a soccer mom in training, however. Rec soccer mommying? So amateur. 

  • My son joined a club team when he was 10. After talking to some parents, I knew it was going to be a 180, brand new experience. Here goes: 

    Once we crossed the Rec threshold, the tuition went from $100 for the season to $2,500 for the year-round club program. Cha-CHING.

    The uniform went from a green T-shirt that said Ay! Guy’s Pizza, black socks, and any old shorts he wanted to wear to three Adidas uniforms: practice, home, and away. These were official kits. 

    Kids asked to wear the coveted #7 for Ronaldo and #10 for Messi -- the best players on the team won that battle. 

    Cleats that were $20 now cost $100 or more -- because that’s just what the other kids were wearing. I sucked it up and bought the fancy ones. So many fancy ones. 

    The coaches went from volunteer parents to former soccer players from overseas. This was their full-time job. This was an academy. 

    There was no playing around at practice. Practice was now running, situps, pushups, drills, stretches, and everything else the coaches demanded. 

    The cool thing, soccer went from kicking a ball to learning the rules and the footwork. My son absorbed the coaching like a sponge and practiced at home in our yard, in our basement, and even dribbled in the living room when I wasn’t aware! 
  • But it was hardcore. Rec was chill. Kids fumbled. Club? Kids break bones and get concussions. 

    Rec, you might get a yellow card. Club, yellow and red cards are handed out by certified adult refs like candy on Halloween. 

    Rec, everyone is super and there is equal playing time. Club? You earn your time on the field. A kid could ride the bench, play four minutes or play the entire game. 

    Rec? The coaches were low-key. Club? If you mess up EVERYONE KNOWS IT. The coaches are loud, bark orders, and aren’t soft about hurt feelings. 

    Rec? Parents kinda coach from the sidelines and cheer loud. Club? We can get ejected from the sidelines if we say Tony, pinch in. We are allowed to cheer. We are not allowed to engage in any negativity -- but that seems to be a work in progress. I’ve heard parents scream at their kids, their spouses, the refs, the coaches, someone else’s kid, opponent parents -- it can get pretty crazy. Like, too serious, I think! It’s youth soccer, guys, calm down. 

    Rec soccer mommying was simple. You show up. You hand out snacks. Club soccer mommying is about driving hours and hours during the week and weekend for training sessions, games, and events. 

    There are cliques. Cattiness. Hurt feelings. It’s silly. 

    You make new best friends, though, but you quickly learn whose kid is the best, the best of all. 

    Team snacks? No way. Never. Lost the game? Expect the kids to run laps. 

    There’s fundraising and meetings and emails. Kids play in the rain unless there is thunder. That means you soccer mom in the rain. Everyone has a chair with a cup holder and an umbrella hanging on the back. 
  • Soccer becomes your life, too.

    But I wouldn’t change the club, the training, the competitiveness, the rainy games, and muddy cleats for anything. 

    My kid now knows how to play soccer. He is serious about his academics more than ever because he can’t play club soccer unless he maintains a C-average in all his classes -- the coach checks. 

    He eats healthier because he learned food is fuel. He watches soccer games on TV and plays FIFA instead of Fortnite. Huge win!

    We’ve bonded over the game as well. The long car rides, the cheer-up talks after a tough game, this summer’s fight-to-the-finish World Cup. It’s time-consuming and expensive and intense but it’s character-building and fun with tough love. Lots of tough love. 

    My friends joke they’ll see me in December or July -- the off months ... which really isn’t a joke. My advice to a newbie club soccer mom. Grow the same amount of thick skin your kid does -- you’re gonna need it! 

    Ana DeAmonte lives in the Midwest with her family. Her son has four soccer games this weekend. Find her on the sidelines.