You may have gathered by now that the only thing we like more than grilling up a big ol’ leg of lamb or writing about grilling that big ol’ leg of lamb is watching our daughters play soccer. I remember when they were young, other parents who had a few years on us, warned once soccer kicks in, you can kiss your weekends goodbye. The sad truth is that even though our friends are probably sick of us giving our one-word excuse for why we can’t go to the barbecue or the birthday party (“soccer”), and even though we had to cancel our Memorial Day vacation plans this year for a tournament (first place, plus a winning goal scored on a breakaway, ahem), I’m not sure what else I’d rather be doing on a Saturday than sitting in my fold-out chair, chatting with parents, and cheering for a fleet of pony-tailed girls who have come to be some of my daughters’ closest friends. (I ask you: Is there anything in the world better than a pony-tailed girl in an oversized soccer uniform?)
But sometimes I wonder if I’m a little nuts. Like when I wake up on the first Saturday of the summer without soccer in the schedule and feel bereft. Or when I go to bed at night thinking about how we can get our 50-pound center midfielder to shoot with more power. Or when I watch the US women’s Olympic team (soccer or otherwise) and think, if I ran a few more miles each week, maybe, just maybe, I could make the 2016 Games? It’s desperate times like these when I’m grateful to have Coach Andy to talk to. Coach Andy – not to be confused with my Andy, aka First Place Loser Andy – is Andrea Montalbano, my 8-year-old’s soccer coach, and mother of two soccer stars herself. She started playing when she was eight, went on to four years of Division 1 ball at Harvard, then, as a producer on the Today show, covered, among other things, the 1999 US Women’s National Championship. But best of all, she’s written a bunch of soccer books for girls that Phoebe loves maybe even more than her Man U T-shirt. You’ve already heard about Breakaway, and now, in time for the Olympics, comes Lily Out of Bounds, the first in her series called Soccer Sisters. (Naturally, Brandi Chastain is the official spokesperson.) In other words, Coach Andy knows a little something about soccer and soccer parents. I thought she might be able to answer a few of my burning questions.
First off, tell me about your book. What does it mean to be a Soccer Sister and how can my daughter become one because it sounds really cool?
AM: A soccer sister is a friend who plays with you, win or lose, who always has your back, who laughs at your worst jokes, who will pick you up and dust you off. The friend who will love you just the same – even if you really blow it. It actually doesn’t have to be soccer, but really any friend who “gets” you. In the book, 13-year-old soccer star Lily and her teammates live and play by a “Code” for Soccer Sisters and the book is about her struggling to stay true to this code.
Speaking of Codes of Conduct, how does a parent talk to their kid’s coach about getting more playing time or trying out a new position without coming off as a total creep?
AM: Well first off, I absolutely think that parents should talk to coaches but if parents are telling the coach what the players want too often, then it’s a sign that the players don’t have right relationship with their coach. But when kids are too young to speak up for themselves, I think the worst possible time to talk about that kind of thing is right before or right after the game when everyone’s emotions are unusually high. Practice is the place to do it. If you come up to me before practice and ask, “Can Abby try playing center half?” usually I’ll say “sure!” then figure out a way to take it into game plan. But if you do it before a game it’s harder. You don’t want to insert a little unhappiness into the pre- or post-game.
You started playing when you were eight. What pushed you to play competitively and keep playing competitively? Did you have Tiger parents?
AM: They were the opposite of tiger parents. They were supportive but never really had much to do with soccer. My father lived on another continent and my mother worked full time. Until I could drive, I was always reliant on other parents or teammates to drive me to practice and games. I started playing when I was 8 and things got really busy when I was 15 or 16. I was taking AP classes, sometimes playing on three teams at one time, driving an hour each way to practice (more…)