Oh, soccer…I will learn to love you

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I have had a real love-hate relationship with soccer going all the way back to my youth.

I never really played the sport. Not that I can remember at least. In our old neighborhood, we grew up with a baseball glove and ball, a basketball and a bike. If there was a soccer ball around, we didn’t do much with it.

Sometime in junior high, The Kansas City Comets appeared on my radar. I don’t remember the first game I went to at Kemper Arena, but I remember I had to go back. Maybe it was the light show before the game. Or the pure energy of a few thousand people (never any more than that as I recall) shrieking as the players were announced and ran onto the indoor soccer field.

They made entrances as if they were the most popular and famous athletes on the planet. And, at the time, they were to us. They had names like Jan Goossens, Alan Mayer, Ed Gettemeier and Gino Schiraldi.

The days of the Comets faded and I turned to the world of sports writing. Some time in 1996, I covered my first high school soccer game. Not long after, I covered my first high school girls’ soccer game, an epic 0-0 tie that went four overtimes and had no end in sight.

I think that’s when I started mildly mocking the sport. Although I did, and still do, openly acknowledge that the soccer players are often some of the best athletes in the schools.

So, I knew the day was coming when Addy would want to hit the soccer field. She started asking for a soccer ball last fall and, once the purple wonder was purchased and brought home, she started asking to take it outside and “play” a game against me.

When it came time for a soccer “team” then, Addy was ready. Well, sort of.

First, she requested she play on an “all girls” team.

“Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen, girlie,” I told her. Of course, I am not all that disappointed that Addy wants to steer clear of the boys right now. But, at her age, the boys and girls play on the same team, I explained.

That earned me an eye roll. I’m used to it now.

Addy’s mom and I decided the Itty Bitty Soccer program through the Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation would be the best way to go to start our kiddo off on the right foot.

Of course, I had to wrap my head around my kiddo playing soccer. Yes, I realize millions of kids play it. Yes, I get that she’s not going to be mired in some four-hour-long tie game (God I hope).

At this age, soccer is more about the fundamentals of the game – passing, dribbling, teamwork and learning that the game isn’t 45 minutes of constant shooting the ball into the goal. Sometimes you have to, you know, be the goalie. Addy had a hard time with that.

The great part of Itty Bitty Soccer is that the parents are right there the whole time. And I mean right there. On the field.

Each parent is out there dribbling, passing, shooting and instructing with a slew of kiddos knocking a much smaller version of a soccer ball around.

And that’s where I renewed my appreciation for the sport. Right there, on the field with Addy. Observing the very beginnings of her learning to kick and interact and play the game.

I still haven’t been a Sporting Kansas City game, though. So, if you want to throw some tickets my way to convince me, please do.

Otherwise, I will be out at Miller J. Field on Saturday mornings watching and “coaching” my daughter and the other kids. For that brief moment in time, they are the stars of the show.

Birthday madness

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Perhaps the most amusing part of throwing outlandish birthdays for our children is that we openly complain about the majesty of it all to any adults within earshot throughout the course of the event.

“Can you believe we do this?” we will ask one another. “Back in our day…”

Indeed, back in our day…

Birthdays are, of course, awesome as kids, no matter how titanic or low-key the party.

Cake. Gifts. Friends. Games. I mean, come on, it’s built in fun.

My most memorable birthday as a child was the surprise I had when my mom drove me to one of the greatest places, at the time, a kid could get lucky enough to enjoy – Showbiz Pizza Place. Inside were a dozen of my best friends, my siblings and family. Oh, and wall-to-wall video games (this was the 80s so it was nonstop Mrs. Pac-Man, Moon Patrol and Donkey Kong for me), pizza and those creepy bears and other assorted animals that played in a band behind the curtain.

As an adult, now, we seemingly look for the most outrageous ways to say “happy birthday” to our children. And maybe outrageous isn’t the correct word. Certainly, though, we can agree that our parents and grandparents are most likely snickering at the massive events we are throwing today.

Addy loves a good birthday party. And a good wedding. She’s like her dad in that regard.

In the last few weeks, she’s been fortunate enough to be invited to a “princess party” for a friend’s daughter and a 1-year old extravaganza out at Legacy Park in Lee’s Summit.

The princess party, if I can look at that through the eyes of the 4-, 5-, 6-year olds, had to have been just spectacular to them. The fact that you can “rent” princesses is something that I chalked up to “things John didn’t know.” But these two ladies had captivated the room the entire time, telling stories, doing activities and giving the little girls makeovers.

Since the 1-year old wasn’t quite ready for that, the party at the park was a little more subdued, if not outright fun, still. These parents opted to entertain the adults as well as the kids, offering food and drinks and the built-in bonus of having right there in a park.

When Addy turned 2, we hit up the birthday party wonderland, Paradise Park, for that occasion.

At 3, it was a bouncy castle in my backyard and catered food from Hy-Vee East in Lee’s Summit.

Just around the corner now is 4. I am sure Addy’s mom has some fun plans up her sleeve. And it will probably involve ponies.

I am certainly not bemoaning the new world of birthdays and kiddos. I am sure this isn’t a fad that just started a few years ago. It’s just all over my radar now with a child of my own.

I told Addy recently that one of her birthdays was just going to be cake and games at the house.

She asked, “Can my friends come?”

A gentle reminder about what really matters most to them.