You position your lawn chair on the sideline and await the start of the game. You open your alarm app on your cell phone and set the timer for 30 minutes. The teams line up, as the referee checks their safety equipment. “Does everyone have their shin guards? Are everyone’s cleats tied properly? No one is wearing jewelry, right?” Soccer Mom’s will have this routine down to a science. Their child will be prepared, have the proper uniform, and will be ready for the game to begin. But, what do we do next?

Soccer is fast becoming the most played youth sport in the United States. “Little Kicker” programs begin as early as age three. Formalized town-wide leagues pit Kindergarteners against each other, with little or no training, as they all chase the ball in unison until the end of the game, when they get doughnut holes and juice boxes. As they get older, the play gets more intense, they get orange slices at halftime, begin to learn actual positions, until the end of the game, when they get doughnut holes and juice boxes. As a Soccer Mom, your job is to volunteer your time to coach and manage, supply the snacks, and to cheer loudly, as if you were watching David Beckham or Mia Hamm. If your child continues to enjoy the game and learn their position, the day will come when turn their sweaty, dirt covered face towards you and say the words you aren’t sure you are ready to hear, “Mom, can I play travel soccer?”

Up until this moment, soccer was a fun game that your child played on Saturday mornings. You sat on the sidelines with the other parents and discussed school, homework, and how well the team was playing. “Travel” soccer is a very different animal. First and foremost, as the name implies, you must travel. Games can involve a ten-minute drive or a two-hour drive. The casual midweek practice becomes mandatory three nights per week practices. The small town fee you paid becomes a $1,500 per season club fee. The team plays tournaments, which can, and often does, require weekend stays in out-of-state hotels. You are still required to volunteer your time and cheer loudly, but the days of doughnut holes and juice boxes are long gone. And the hard part is just beginning.

As a parent, you have been “instructing” your child on what to do, what not to do, and how to do it for their entire lives. YOU were the person who told them not to touch the hot stove, or they would burn their hand. YOU were the person who told them not to talk to strangers. YOU were the person who told them they had to eat their vegetables. YOU were the person who told them what time they had to be home. Suddenly, they are travel soccer players, and they have a professional coach and a professional trainer, who tell you the most important thing you can do for your child is NOT tell them what to do while they are on the field. This may sound like a welcome relief, but it is harder than expected to go from being a participant in your child’s life to being a spectator.

To be a successful Soccer Mom, you must learn to embrace your new role. It is very difficult to resist the urge to tell your child which position they should play, where they should be on the field, and how much playing time they should be allotted. To be a successful Soccer Mom, you must live by the rule, “Encourage-Don’t Instruct!” And, if the temptation gets to be too much and you find yourself yelling instructions from the sideline, bring doughnut holes and juice boxes for yourself and keep your mouth full until the game is over.