Care and Feeding

My 10-Year-Old’s Teammates Are Making an Absurd Commitment to Youth Soccer

A girl in soccer gear smiles as she puts her foot on a soccer ball.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

When do we need to ensure our kids make all things for an extracurricular activity, and when is is it okay to keep the plans we already made?

I have a daughter in fifth grade, and she is starting to join multiple clubs and teams at school. Her father and I support her 100 percent. We get the schedules at the beginning of the season, and we arrange our schedules so she can make all the practices and team events/ games. Both her father and I work full time, including nights and weekends, so this can take time to arrange, but with notice we can make it work.

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This summer, there was a game scheduled late in the season, with little notice, and we already had a family trip planned for that weekend. We told the coach that she couldn’t make it because we had a family obligation, and got no feedback, positive or negative.

I see other parents rearranging their schedules to accommodate these activities, like a friend’s family missing a wedding because they have sports that same weekend. If she were older, or we knew more families on the team, we may have tried to make other arrangements for her. Is this the wrong attitude on my part? Should we have made sure she attended the event? And where do we draw the line?

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—Overscheduled

Dear Overscheduled,

I see a couple of sides to this.

On one hand, as a coach, it annoyed me to no end when some of the kids rarely showed up to practices or games. Why did their parents sign them up in the first place? Part of playing any team sport is that it teaches kids about discipline and being accountable to themselves and their teammates. I believe that if a player cannot commit to being present and on-time for at least 75 percent of the team’s activities, then they shouldn’t bother doing it.

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On the other hand, some perspective is needed here. Missing out on family vacations or weddings due to a fifth grade sporting event is flat out absurd, and I think most coaches would agree with me. Every family should be able to celebrate time together without feeling guilty about it, and in your situation, I don’t think you did anything wrong by holding her out of a game that was scheduled at the last minute.

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It really comes down to this—if you make a commitment of your volition to join a club or a sport, then you need to do everything in your power to stick to it. That means showing up to as many practices, games, workouts, and meetings as possible. However, if any of it comes at the expense of one’s mental health or family dynamic, then I think it’s more than reasonable to reevaluate the situation accordingly.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughters have been going through a rough patch lately. My oldest, “Allie” (18) has been bullying my middle, “Lori” (17). It’s not the obvious sort of thing like name-calling and it’s nothing physical, but rather side comments and threatening to tell Lori’s friends made-up secrets. She also makes comments about Lori’s clothing and tells jokes that are more harmful than funny.  She refuses to go to activities where Allie is there and is scared to be driven to school by her. Lori says she won’t join the sports team that they have played on for the past two years if Allie joins as well. Lori also confided in me that she is afraid Allie will spread a rumor about her at school if she tries to stand up to her. My husband and I have tried talking to Allie about her behavior and things like taking her phone away, but Allie doesn’t think she’s in the wrong. I don’t want Lori to think she has to live with a bully, but I’m unsure on how to get Allie to stop.

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—Worried Mom in Washington

Dear Worried Mom,

Allie is clearly going through something, because nobody should terrorize their sibling that way and think nothing is wrong. My first inclination is that Allie is jealous of Lori for some reason and is bullying her in an effort to “knock her down a few pegs” as some like to say. I’m assuming Lori is the victim here because nothing in your letter makes me assume otherwise. However, you should absolutely conduct some research on Lori’s behavior as well to ensure there’s nothing you’re overlooking.

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I think it should start with mandatory family therapy sessions with a licensed professional to get to the bottom of why Allie is treating her sister this way. If Allie shrugs it off or refuses to participate in the sessions wholeheartedly, then you’ll need to ramp it up a bit.

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Right now it doesn’t seem like Allie is taking you or your threats seriously. Granted, she is legally an adult, so you don’t have as much power over her as you would for a minor, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Chances are you’re paying for her phone bill, right? Then maybe you should stop doing that if she continues with her behavior. If she has car privileges, then you should take those away as well. If you want to be really extreme, you could tell her that she’s not welcome to live in your house if the bullying continues. I don’t think it will come to that, but she needs to understand that you mean business and that you’re willing to follow through on it.

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The key is that you make the rules for what happens in your house, not your kids. Obviously Lori’s mental health is compromised by all of this, but I also feel that Allie’s behavior can be viewed as a cry for help. You need to get to the root of the problem to ensure she doesn’t spiral out of control, and it starts with therapy and strong discipline to ensure Allie falls in line with your rules. In time I hope that you’ll see significant improvement.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

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My son turns 5 at the end of December. The last two autumns he has been playing beginners’ soccer and is always the youngest one on the team because they group by birth year, instead of grade. This hasn’t been a problem before because there was little focus on the rules and all the kids just ran around for fun. Now we’re on the U6 team, as a 4-year-old, and the other kids are taking it way more seriously. My son had his first game and was so excited until he got out there and realized he can’t touch the ball as there is no sharing/taking turns and he is smaller and a generally cautious child.  He started crying and screaming he wanted a turn. We took him off the field to calm down, talked about how soccer works, and ended up leaving early. In most cases, I think kids should stick with things that are hard, but maybe my kid just isn’t cut out for this level of soccer or this kind of team sport now that they are really playing it. Next year he would have to play on a U8 team as a 5-year-old! (And there is no requesting a lower age group.) Do we keep making him go, or just call it a day and cut our losses?

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—Soccer Mom

Dear Soccer Mom,

I have some pretty strong opinions about this since I’ve coached youth sports for years. Unless a kid is a prodigy from a talent and maturity standpoint, they should not be playing on an 8-and-under team as a 5-year-old. I definitely wouldn’t sign my kid up for that if I were you, but we’ll get to what you should do in the future momentarily.

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It seems like your son falls into the 99.9 percent of 4-year-olds who run around aimlessly on sports fields across the country. None of this is unique or new, but I think it’s important to determine where your son chooses to learn the game. I think between the ages of 5 and 8, kids should focus strictly on fundamentals and fun—winning games shouldn’t be a priority for anyone. In coaching youth basketball, we didn’t even keep score until the kids reached third grade. However, there will always be parents who think their kid will be playing in the World Cup someday, so they make their kids take everything more seriously—which can lead to selfish play. When that happens, the younger kids or the kids with less talent can become frustrated because they aren’t involved as much, and predictable tantrums ensue.

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You mentioned this is “beginners’ soccer”, but there’s a difference between club teams and recreational teams. Club teams usually require a hefty membership fee, which makes some parents think, “If I’m going to pay all of this money for my kids to play, then I’m going to make sure they’re the stars of the team.” Not to mention, coaches focus a lot more on winning because it impacts their standing with the club they’re affiliated with. That means the most talented players are the ones who are involved more often on the field while the others stand around and watch. Sadly, I’ve seen this happen way too often.

Recreational teams are usually reserved for kids who just want to have fun. Teamwork is emphasized and the coaches ensure every child has a turn regardless of skill level as they learn the game. This is exactly the kind of league your son should be a part of.

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It seems obvious to me that you need to get your son out of this particular league and find another one more suitable for his age and skill level, if you decide to stick with soccer. I say that because the most important thing to determine is if your son actually wants to play this sport going forward. Keep experimenting with other sports and activities. It could be soccer or it could be the saxophone, but in time he will find the thing that “clicks” for him.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a part of an all-white family and my MIL is one of those weird Disney-obsessed adults who has Disney princess collectibles all over her house. Other than the fact that she’s immature and clearly needs to grow up, she’s completely losing her mind over Princess Ariel being played by a Black woman. Yesterday she said, “why don’t those people leave our classics alone?” Our daughter is turning 5 in two months and we’re planning a big birthday party for her. Personally I don’t want a racist anywhere near my child, and I don’t want her to be invited. My husband thinks I’m overreacting and that she absolutely should be at the party. I’m willing to die on this hill, but I want another opinion first. What do you think?

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—Black Mermaids Matter

Dear Black Mermaids Matter,

Before I dive in, I need to check you on one thing. There’s absolutely nothing immature about grownups who enjoy Disney princesses. I’m sure some people believe that I’m immature because I enjoy playing video games—but to me, it’s a great way to unwind and decompress after a long day. People are entitled to like whatever they want as long as it’s not hurting anyone.

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Racism, however, always hurts people.

I’m not going to conduct a deep dive on this controversy that shouldn’t be a controversy, because quite frankly, it’s exhausting. All I’ll say is nobody is taking anyone’s “classics” away. If anyone wants to watch the animated version of The Little Mermaid, they can be part of that world from now until the end of time. It would be so refreshing if your MIL said, “Wow, it’s so nice that kids of color can finally see someone who looks like them in a lead movie role. It must be so demoralizing for them to always see white people as the norm for everything in America.” If more white people felt that way, this country would be a much better place to live—but sadly, here we are.

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To answer your question, your MIL made her feelings about Black people evident in her recent comments. Why would you want to expose your child to that level of bigotry? If I said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times—we need to make racists feel marginalized. That means your MIL and people of her ilk shouldn’t be invited to your daughter’s birthday party, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, your book club, poker night, or any other gathering you host.

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Think of this way—would you invite a known animal abuser to your kid’s party? What about a drug dealer? What about a person who always steals from your house when they visit? You probably wouldn’t think twice about saying “no”, right? That’s because you’ve set clear boundaries on what isn’t acceptable in your life. I’m here to say that racists should always be on that list, too.

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If you want, you can tell her the reason why you aren’t inviting her, and I’m sure she’ll pull the victim card and whine about you joining the “woke mob” or some other cringeworthy nonsense — but I wouldn’t budge. Let her marinate in her own juices of bigotry until she learns that it’s going to negatively impact her relationship with her grandchild. Hopefully she’ll see the error in her ways when she learns that this type of behavior comes at a steep price.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I are friends with a lovely couple. We have many things in common and enjoy hanging out with them. The problem is their kid. They have a son the same age as our younger son and the boys like hanging out with each other. At first that seemed like a great bonus to this friendship. But the longer we’ve been friends, the clearer it has become that their kid is a horrible person—rude, spoiled, insolent, a liar, and frequently downright mean to our kid.

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