Can cold soccer mornings change the world?

In the biting cold of a Sunday morning we’re pumped. Jogging on the spot we limber up for the game; eyes on the field, nerves tense and hearts pumping. The whistle blows and our kids start running.

“Go for it Darcy,” I yell from the sideline, though my eleven-year-old needs no prompting to chase down the ball.

So much of parenthood is spent watching, waiting, hoping, living vicariously through such moments – sporting and otherwise – hoping your kid might shine, swallowing that flickering need in yourself for their glory, and reminding yourself over-and-over that it’s about the experience, the teamwork, the effort, but still loving it when they get a shiny medal or trophy.

Like most parents I’ve sat through countless hours of this sideline action. On hard wooden benches in a draughty ballet hall, in the mud and rain at the football, on the bum-freezing bleachers watching kids aim for slam dunks. I’ve been splashed with chlorinated water poolside, sat attentively at music recitals, and cheered on runners, jumpers, netballers, tee-ballers, batters, bowlers….and well, you get the picture.

At last weekend’s game a patchwork of accents wove through the parent spectators and one dad was in trouble with his daughter for mispronouncing the player names.

“It’s Ay-dree-en,” she insists, but I quite like his melodic “Arr-dree –arn”. He giggles at her instructions and tries to adapt his tongue to Strine, but it trips on the inflections.

The mum serving chips and hot dogs in the canteen speaks in a thick European accent and smiles broadly as the muddy, flushed players line up for post-match sustenance.

It’s largely dads and sons leaving the pitch after the game, some with an arm flung around their offspring, heads bowed as they relive the highlights: “Did you see when Bez kicked that wicked goal dad, how cool was that?”

Mums kiss muddied faces and extended family and friends are there too, ready with hugs and back slaps, and maybe a few keen words on technique.

Every kid is a hero

There’s no ugliness here today, though I’ve squirmed through several instances of it in the 18 years (and counting) that I’ve been a parent barracker.

I’ve seen parents publicly belittle their own children; dads squaring up to each other over nine-year-old basketball and heard mums scream for umpire blood. Behaviour of this sort is always the lowest point of any season.

Passion is great; but abuse from the sidelines is unacceptable and likely to do more than just create an ugly atmosphere; it also strikes at the heart of the game, squashing its spirit and robbing our kids of the benefits.

Back at our ground the game has ended, Darcy runs off eyes shining, shins filthy and happy with the result. “They’re the best team in the league mum,” he explains, ‘we did well to score against them at all.’

He’s thoughtful in the car on the way home, scoffing hot chips drowned in sauce. A former student from his school is headed for her first Paralympics this week, and there has been much school-based celebration.

“They gave a talk,’ he says “and said that this was her journey; her moment. It was really inspiring. She reckons sport gave her confidence. She said it helped her succeed at lots of other stuff too.”

He’s quiet for a moment, reflective.

“The teacher asked us what our personal journey was,” he picks mud from the spikes of his boots, rubbing it between his fingers.

“Mum, do you think one person really can make a difference in the world?”

“Of course mate. Why?”

“Cos, I think that’s my journey; to make a difference in the world,” he looks at me and my heart hurts with love.

On cold winter sports fields across our country children are playing, parents are watching and the future is forming.

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