Giving Back Pays Back

In the past decade, there has been a huge decline in volunteers.  I see it in schools where it is almost always the same parents helping at events.   I have also seen it at my sons’ activities when, at the beginning of each soccer season, emails were sent to parents, searching for  volunteers to step up and coach their child’s team; this also happens in hockey, baseball and other kids’ sports.  I regularly see this in the running community when race directors send out requests for volunteers, and usually more than once, so that their races can run smoothly.

Often volunteer work is  filled by high school students who need to complete the 40 service hours required for graduation but we all need to do it.  I get it: we are all busy and it’s hard to find time for other people when you can barely find time for yourself.  But, speaking from my own experience, volunteering is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.  You are making a difference.  You are helping others.   And no matter how much you had to juggle things around to do something that you may not have really wanted to do in the first place, if you are at all like me, you will always finish feeling good.   And, if you’re really lucky, it will come back to thank you later.

Years ago, when I registered my youngest (9 at the time) for soccer, I responded to one of the mass emails searching for a coach.  I hadn’t planned on coaching  but I was going to be at the field anyway, I knew soccer and I knew how to work with kids.  Somebody had to coach and it made sense for me to step up.  Besides, it gave me a chance to spend time with my son; I knew that, as a 9 year old, his days of wanting to hang out with Mom would soon be coming to an end.   But we spent more seasons at soccer together than I expected.  What started off as a fall commitment lead to winter, summer and a few more years of soccer coaching until it just wasn’t cool for me to do it anymore.

My soccer coaching is now two years behind me.   There are some times when I have been thanked through smiling faces, handshakes and thank you cards, and others when I have been ignored.  But that’s okay.  For me, coaching was about spending time with my son.  And it was about giving back.  Only this year, did I realize home important that giving back really is.

Now in Grade 9, my son has been unleashed from the protection of a smaller local elementary school to the openness of the high school years.  While I think I raised both of my kids to do the right thing and make good choices, I worry; all parents do.  Who will his new friends be?  What will he do in his free time?  Where will he hang out?   There were – and still are – so many unknowns.

Last Friday night, he asked if he could sleep at a friend’s house.  Of course, I hesitated.  I recognized the last name, but not the first.   I asked where the boy lived – just in case – but it was a different area.  “He’s a new friend.  We hang out together.”  This led a drill of questions and answers, resulting in the mutual decision to drop him off and meet the family; if I didn’t feel comfortable, we would go home together.

When the door opened at his new friend’s house, I said, “I know you.  I use to coach you soccer.”  The teen looked at me and replied, “Oh ya!”  We went inside to see his parents and faces lit up.  We all recognized each other from our U10/U11 soccer days. The family had moved and the boy had changed his first name to one that reflected his cultural heritage.  Suddenly, the stress of my son’s sleeping over was gone.  I knew this family.  I knew that my youngest would be fine.  And, so I returned home relaxed as I could see that my son was hanging out with good kids.

This was the greatest thank you that I have had in all my years of coaching.   It made me grateful for the Saturdays and evenings that I spent on the pitch, being a part of my son’s activities and meeting new people.  And it reminded me that this is why we, as parents, need to get involved with our kids when they are younger.  Dropping them off at a game, practice or activity is not enough.  We need to physically be a part of their lives.  We need to see who our kids gravitate towards, watch what they do and listen to what they talk about.  We need to influence them to do the right thing.   Coaching let me do that with my son.  I realize now that my work as a volunteer helped influence my son in making the right decision.

So the next time you are asked to help out, think twice before you reply.   It’s not whether you have the time; it’s about whether you want to be a part of something that really matters to you.  So get involved.  It can do you more good than you will ever realize.


A Good Problem to Have

I didn’t plan on becoming a soccer mom.  When my boys were younger – well, before they were even born – I imagined them becoming hockey players.  I would get them up in the morning and give them a bowl of oatmeal before Dad would take them to their 6:00 practices, and I would cheer loudly for them during games.  But this never happened.  Even then, at no point in my early parenting years, did I ever think that I would become a soccer mom.

When the boys turned 4, each was registered in the Timbits house league, practically a right of passage in town.   All of their friends played; I mean, ALL of their friends.  But as they got older, and their interests changed, they both walked away from soccer and got into other things.

Somewhere between chasing 4 year old Timbit players and going to High School, the oldest looked into working as a referee.  At the end of his grade 8 year, he took his first qualification course, CPR and First Aid, and he spent that summer getting himself to as many fields as he could so that he could work.  And he was good at it.  My 13 year old could control the field and the parents surrounding it – no easy feat- and that success propelled him to continue reffing during the following school year and summer.

soccer named ballsFast forward to the fall of 2015.  The Littlest Dude (TLD), entering Grade 5, decided that he wanted to play soccer.  Since the club was short of coaches and I was going to be there anyway, I decided to coach his team.  Within weeks, it became obvious that TLD was committed to the sport.  We registered him for another season, and I agreed to coach again.  When the Summer League opened, TLD wanted to play again – but he wanted more than a weekly house league; he wanted to play in the developmental program, which runs twice a week.

This year, it seems, I have officially become a soccer mom.  I am often helping my oldest with travel to his games or back home, since games can end late.  As TLD’s coach, I am committed to working with his team two nights a week.  And now, as he has eyes on trying out for Rep soccer in the next year, I find myself spending almost every afternoon taking him to a field, at his request, so that he can practise shots and play with his friends.  In an average week, I am making an average of 11 trips to any of the different soccer fields in town.

Honestly, I don’t know how this happened.  As a parent, I introduced my boys to different activities, hopeful that they would find one that they liked and would stick with it.  When they were younger, I told them, “It doesn’t matter to me what you do, but whatever you do, do it well.”   My oldest son chose music – played the piano, sang in a choir, played percussion in the band – and he was good, really good, in all.   He took swimming lessons and he ran cross-country, but that was really the extent of his interest in sport; his throwing himself into the world of soccer was a bit of a shock.  He refs, helps coach his school’s Senior team (grade 11 and 12) and mentors new referees.  My youngest?  He loves athletics but he never had any real desire to get involved in any kind of competitive sport.  Out of nowhere, something clicked; he constantly wants to play and, like so many boys his age, he wants to be one of the best. Soccer cleats

I like to think that my own racing and training have somehow rubbed off on my boys.   They have seen me throw myself into my running – especially during marathon season – and chase my own goals.  Secretly, I have been hoping that they would follow my footsteps, especially since they didn’t follow Dad’s path to the rink.  But they haven’t.  For whatever reason, at different points in their lives, both of them simply seemed to wake up one morning and throw themselves into soccer.  And they do it well.

Spending my time taking them from one field to another is a good problem to have.


How Did I Become a Soccer Mom?

For the past 2 weeks, I have been hopping around from one blog to another and have enjoyed meeting new people.  Today is my spotlight day so I am going to start off telling you a bit about me.

Chicago - expoChasing My Dreams – Setting goals and going after them makes me happy.  After my long layoff this year, I still ran the Chicago Marathon and BQ’d.  When I was still on the course, I set one of my goals for 2016: to marathon in the spring and improve my time for a better corral start.

Yummy – My favorite food is chocolate.  I’m pretty good about staying away from it.  Being lactose intolerant helps.  But when I do my own baking and I know that foods are “safe” to eat, I have to really watch that I don’t eat all of the chocolate chip cookies.

Nerd – I am such a math nerd.  I love looking and analyzing data, especially when it involves running.  It’s a good think I teach math.

Toenails – I have ugly toenails – really ugly.  Running has not been kind to my feet at all.

Hot – I love hot weather runs.  I love to sweat.  I hate all of the winter laundry.  Summer laundry is so much easier.

Ice – After last January, ice terrifies me.  When I fell, I broke my jaw in four places. cropped-pw-near-trail.jpg I was off work for weeks and was forced to stay away from exercise of any kind for weeks and weeks.  Even downward dog was dangerous for me to do!  I’m not sure how I’ll deal with running this winter yet but I should know soon.

Asthma – I developed asthma when I was in my late 20’s.  For a while, it stopped me from running.  I tried and tried, but I had asthma attacks that simply wouldn’t let me run.  I go fed up and took asthma by the horns.  Over a few years, I learned to run with it, even in the winter, and can now race as a top Masters athlete in Ontario.

I am a Grade 6 and 7 teacher and, from one day to the next, each of my students has something special that makes them stand out, something that makes them shine.  It could be a passion for a sport, a favorite hobby that they love to talk about and share, or a general excitement that they bring to class.  That enthusiasm makes their eyes shine and makes even the toughest kid smile;  it defines who they are.

Ten Miler - finishMy enthusiasm for fitness and an active lifestyle makes me who I am.  Fortunately, the digital age is still fairly young so I can’t post any pictures from the Richard Simmons’ era, when I was bitten by the aerobic bug that eventually led to me teaching aerobics.  In the 90’s, I needed more of an adrenalin rush so I turned to running and general fitness training – and I haven’t looked back.   Today, if you were to ask someone about me, they would most definitely use the word “runner” in the first two sentences.

In the past 25 years, my running has only been halted three times.  The first was when I developed asthma – induced by cold and exercise (not great for a Canadian runner)  but I spent several years learning how to run with it.   I also stopped running when I was pregnant (my boys are now 9 and 14)  as I really didn’t enjoy running while pregnant .  So I turned to cross-training – mostly stationary cycling and the stairmaster.   My most recent hiatus was this past winter when I broke my jaw while running and, then, had to deal with the deaths of both parents in the spring.    After every “rest” period, whether forced or self-inflicted, I could not wait to get back to the roads.

So it has always shocked me that my own boys have not been into sports.  My husband is an avid hockey player, cyclist, tennis player and occasional runner.  Me:  I run competitively (competitive enough to claim the Canadian 50-54 title for the 8K distance).   We dreamed about raising superkids with both fast-twitch  and slow-twitch fibres, coming from his speed and my endurance.  Nope!

The Littlest Dude (at 4), ready to go.

Over the years, we encouraged both to participate in sports but they showed a combination of low skills and an even lower interest.  They came to races with me, cheered me on, and would race the odd Kids’ event.  We’d see glimmers of potential and a bit more enthusiasm, but the boys kept going back to the things they loved: music and lego.

We couldn’t push them.  I wasn’t going to be “that parent” who dragged a screaming child to a swimming lesson or soccer game.  But I could plan my training with them in it.  I would throw one into a baby jogger or drag them out on their bikes when I ran long.  We talked running around the house a lot but, still, there was no real interest.  All I could do was hope that they would eventually realize what they were missing.

At the beginning of August, like every other August, the two Dudes and I talked about what sports they could get involved with this year.  To my surprise, they both said soccer.  My oldest has been refereeing for the past year and has taken an interest in the game as a player.  My youngest is either following his lead or was bitten by the soccer bug when we watched the PanAm Games.  Either way, it didn’t matter; they wanted to play soccer.  Soccer cleats

At the end of the month, I opened an email: “Coaches Needed for U11 Boys.”  Hmmm…. We had a quick family meeting, a few days to digest the decision and I was suddenly coaching the Littlest Dude’s team.    So now, a typical weekend for us includes one U11 game, one U15 game, a few games to referee and a load of soccer laundry.  This week, Soccer Mom also organized a practice for the team.  It looks like the boys aren’t the only ones bitten by the soccer bug.

“Where are my soccer socks?”  “Can you wash my ref jersey?”  “Who do we play this week?”  Soccer has quickly become part of the regular language in our house.  The boys are excited about it.  They smile when they talk about it.  Soccer: it defines who they are.PanAm Green Screen Andrew