Sometimes we just have to laugh even if it is at the expense of someone’s unfortunate actions. That’s why "America’s Funniest Home Videos" continues to be a family favorite. We can’t seem to get enough of people falling off of skateboards, being hit in the groin with a baseball, having someone jump out of a closet or collapsing a table while dancing on it. At least the subjects of these videos made the choice to share them with millions of viewers. So they learned to laugh at themselves with the dangling carrot of a possible $100,000 prize for best video of the year justifying any remaining embarrassment.
I’ve seen enough soccer games to know that odd and hilarious actions often pop up. In youth soccer, that can be nearly every game as kids possess a natural sense of wild abandon when it comes to taking the ball down the field. Their unintended quirks create some entertaining moments. Luckily, kids carry immunity against humiliation. They get so focused on the task at hand that what we witness on the sidelines as comical becomes just a momentary interruption in their real quest — a goal.
The classic moment is the ardent dribble down the field, a goal, and high fives all around but, unfortunately, in the opponent’s net. Who cares? A goal was scored and a celebration was enjoyed. Twists abound on this scenario. When my youngest son was 9, he played a downtown team on a small field under a viaduct. Since the field was used by several different aged teams there were three different sized goals surrounding the pitch. My son received the ball and began a fervent run down the field, let loose a sharp kick and GOALLLLL! — in one of the nets not in play. During a grandson’s game when he was 4, his team was rushing toward the goal. The opposing team’s coach admonished his team to "Stop them from scoring any way you can." Like a tsunami, the four kids threw themselves en masse in front of the portable pug goal with legs and arms extending out as if they were two intertwined octopi and sending the goal toppling out of bounds. My grandson’s team ignored the loss of the goal and sent in a barrage of shots, none of which made it past the barricade of bodies. Everyone, including the coaches, was laughing too hard at the scene to end it. It was a classic case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.
Throw-ins look easy, but not in the hands of young players. During one game, players tried again and again to throw the ball over the side line. Kid after kid heaved the ball down the outside of the side line, lost it backwards over their head, stepped onto the field as they threw the ball, had the ball slapped out of bounds, and in one case, actually heaved the ball clear across the field. Each team alternated in the attempt to complete a legal throw-in. Whistles were frequent. But what started out as frustration eventually morphed into a truly funny scene. Even the kids began laughing as attempt after attempt failed. Eventually someone executed a proper throw-in, which resulted in an eruption of applause from everyone: players, coaches, parents and especially the one ref who probably had developed chapped lips as he whistled each infraction.
Balls often fly from one field to another. Occasionally, players have to wait patiently to retrieve their ball because the field it escaped to hosts activity that can’t be stopped. But those extra balls can add extra entertainment. In one game two players picked up the two balls rolling across their pitch and scored goals in opposite nets at the same moment. The confusion was further complicated by the fact it was a tournament and all the balls were the same. Of course the ref solved the problem by discounting both goals which resulted in a battle by the coaches arguing that their team’s goal was the one that should remain in force. Parents bitterly argued what the rules should be in this case. In the meantime, the kids oblivious to the conflict continued to play with both balls, scoring goal after unchecked goal. The team that had lost its ball pleaded to get one of the balls back since its play had completely stopped. This French farce continued for at least five minutes until the adults realized that the chaos was continuing, got the ref to blow a whistle and agreed to just start over. Oh, and they returned one ball to the team on the adjoining field. In some cases, players don’t wait patiently and streak onto the field to get the ball. Parents under the guise of being helpful will hop into the fray to rescue a ball, even if in one case it was the wrong ball. This parent "helpfully" took the ball being dribbled down the field by his child’s opponent to heave it over to the neighboring field without regard to the real orphaned ball sitting forlornly untouched near the sideline. Pleading ignorance, he defended his move while the kids kept playing the ref shook his head unable to figure out what rule applied in this case.
Following any game, kids are encouraged to line up and do the "handshake snake" in the spirit of good sportsmanship. This tradition has led to several comical moments. In one game, a young lady refused to shake the hands of any of the players. Her coach was visibly upset with her and began to reproach her for her improper behavior. The poor girl burst into tears, which we all assumed was her realization that she had been rude. Instead, she wailed at the top of her lungs, "My mom told me not to touch people’s hands. They have flu germs!" After a gasp of recognition that we had all made similar seemingly innocent comments to our kids, we burst into laughter. The coach gave the girl a hug and sent her over to her protective mom. At another post-game ceremony where the kids got trophies, the players triumphantly held their awards over their heads ala an FA Cup victory, kissed the trophies and otherwise mugged for the camera. It was an exuberant and silly celebration. Once the pictures were over, the entire team headed to the nearest trash can and threw their trophies away. We parents were shocked. What was that all about? As one young man revealed, "Coach told us it doesn’t get any better than this." We retrieved the trophies, laughing the entire time, realizing that a comment meant to praise the kids was understood to mean something completely different.
All this shows that without the proper context, kids can clearly misinterpret what we are saying to them, which also leads to some comical moments. I’ve told the story of the young boy who was instructed by his coach during a corner kick to "move goal side." The poor player looked panicked — which goal? Which side? How far to the side? As the coach pleaded over and over with the kid, he finally ran as fast as he could to the opposite goal and bravely stood on the left side, obviously hoping he had made the right choice. There was the coach who told a player to "pick up the ball" as it passed her, so she did. Phrases such as "tackle the player," "shield the ball," "clear the ball," "cross the ball" and "mark your man" make sense to us adults, but they are a foreign language to our kids. As they struggle to do what they are told, they can do some pretty funny things. Tackle the player has led to several Clay Matthews-worthy sacks. Shield the ball ended up with a player throwing his body over the ball. Clear the ball resulted in girl picking up the ball and wiping it "clear" with her jersey. You can imagine what a child might infer "cross the ball" to mean, especially a child preparing for her Catholic Confirmation, and that’s exactly what she did. With deep conviction she made the sign of the cross over the ball, which certainly couldn’t hurt except that an opponent kicked the ball out from under her devotion. Mark your man can lead to double confusion. Players may wonder if they are supposed to keep a Sharpie close at hand, and if so, where should they make their mark? Female teams end up confused because the only men around them are referees, coaches and dads. Why should they mark them up?
When approaching any game, we need to maintain a sense of humor. Our youngest players offer us the opportunity to never take a contest too seriously. After all, it is just a game that should first and foremost be fun. We should also try to carry that good spirit into the later years of soccer. Even in the most tension-filled and significant games, there are moments of great humor. Seek out those moments and relish them. Laugh with your children. When all is said and done, those humorous events make such better memories than the bitterness of an unfair foul or a stinging loss. It is reported that children laugh 150 times a day while adults laugh as few as five times a day. Of course, if you choose to watch any recent Adam Sandler movie you cut your laughter in half immediately. I hope we can all rediscover that wild abandon we had as children and spend more time laughing even if we end up laughing at our own foibles.