Being a young athlete comes with certain dynamics.
As kids climb the competitive ladder, there’s more responsibility.
Regardless of the sport, physical conditioning intensifies, learning the playbook is paramount and paying close attention to on-the-field training is required.
As the players go from fun stuff to serious high school and college competition, focus becomes acute and pressure mounts.
Officials’ “bad” calls that seemed insignificant when Johnny was a 7-year-old now stick in the craws of players, their fans and especially those kids’ parents.
Well, recently Mike Hill — whose sons Alex and Matt play for a Davis Legacy Soccer Club U15 team — had a brilliant idea.
What not reverse roles? Parents take the field. Kids, you do the grunt work getting things ready for a game, coach the old folks, referee the game and encourage (or chide) your parents from the sidelines.
“Fun, for one thing,” Hill told me. “Second, to develop a sense of empathy for the kids. There are certain parents that need that sense of empathy. Unfortunately, I’m the worst offender (on the sidelines).”
Hill said the parents experienced first-hand how difficult an afternoon on the pitch can be.
“(Athletes) can be out there with best of intentions, but there are physical limitations. Especially for people don’t play on a regular basis,” Hill continued. He added that humility — at least for the parents — probably was another byproduct of the 3-3 tie.
Another Hill observation: “To realize what good fans the kids are. We didn’t hear anything negative to the refs or players on field.
“The kids were 100 percent positive. They thought whole thing was great and completely funny. I heard things out there like ‘Hey, (mom or dad) you did really good out there. You surprised me.’ ”
The U15 White squad coached by Jammal Anibaba — known as Barcelona around these parts — was the guinea pig in Hill’s brainchild. The game was suggested, planned and scheduled while Anibaba and his family were visiting their native Nigeria.
“It was a surprise to me,” the longtime soccer mentor explains. “Mele (Echiburu) was texting me the whole time. Telling me what was going on.”
Echiburu says Anibaba said the game was a “crazy” idea, but with all of the parents already on board, all the coach had to do was observe, root — and interfere a little.
“One obnoxious part came up when we had to tilt the game a little bit,” Anibaba says with a big laugh. “We could tell one team was a little bit stronger. When we starting tilting, the parents started whining about that … pretty much the way kids whine when they feel the referee takes a side.”
A couple of those officials — Barcelona players Tomas Echiburu and Chris Johnson — were perfect in their roles.
Emerson Junior High ninth-grader Tomas, who had told his mom all week that “I can’t wait to pull a card out at the game,” didn’t have a single write-up.
However, Johnson didn’t have enough room in his pocket for all the yellows he issued.
“It was like a real game goes sometimes,” Anibaba says with another laugh.
So, while the elders labored on the field, the Youth of Barcelona sparkled as surrogate parents.
Ben Tang, a ninth-grader at Holmes Junior High, led everyone in pre-game workouts and took over as a coach after intermission.
Others brought the equipment, set up the field at the DLSC complex and staffed the first-aid station (which mercifully went without use).
Mele Echiburu coordinated the practice schedule, helped the New-Wave Oldsters assign duties normally reserved for their parents and kept Anibaba apprised of the situation.
“When I got back, it was a done deal,” Anibaba remembers.
Anibaba — whose son Jalil plays professional soccer for the Chicago Fire — showed up to the game with a half-dozen Nigeria drums, keeping a constant rhythm going during the four, 10-minute quarters.
“Even then, I was accused of passing messages to (one) team,” the coach said, a knowing smile exposing his hand. Maybe those drums weren’t just for ambiance.
So, what did everyone take away from this role reversal?
Mike’s wife Jeanine knows the parents got a better understanding of what goes into their kids’ athletic commitment.
She also pointed out that some of the moms were so into the game, they hired personal trainers to get in shape.
Tang and Tomas Echiburu loved the opportunity to coach and referee, but say they’re excited to get back on the field and hear what their newly schooled parents have to say from the sidelines.
And the overriding impact?
“As adults, sometimes we get shown the mirror by children in a way that can have a big, positive impact,” Mike Hill believes.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.