Soccer moms take field

Perspective: By playing their children's sport, mothers carve out time for themselves and relate more to their kids.

March 11, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

It's Friday night and soccer clinic time at Volleyball House in Columbia.

The teams have gathered around their instructors, hair pulled back, socks folded neatly below the knee.

Tonight's lessons: passing drills. Give-and-go. One-touch.

The soccer players are intent. They take these drills seriously.

But in between kicks and blocks, you can catch their eyes, heavy with mascara, scanning the sidelines the way only a mom can.

That's because these soccer players are soccer moms.

Not the ones who cheer from the bleachers and shop for hair ribbons to match their daughters' cleats. These are moms who play indoor soccer -- once a week, all year round.

These Howard County soccer moms-turned-soccer players are learning a lot at these clinics about the nation's quintessential suburban sport, but, because they're still moms, they're also learning to relate more to their soccer-playing kids.

"Now I can appreciate what they're doing out there in the game," said Donna Whitehead of Ellicott City. "You know when I used to say `Run harder! Run harder!' Now I know, you get tired out there. And it's so easy to make a mistake."

"And when you miss, you miss because you missed," said Columbia mom Leslie Martinelli, "not because you tried to miss."

At the same time, these players are changing the stereotypical image of the suburban soccer mom.

Carting sweating girls and bruised-up boys around in minivans and SUVs, toting orange slices and Gatorade -- that was so yesterday.

Now the moms do the sweating, drink the Gatorade and proudly show off their own bruises.

Then, they go home and cook dinner.

"You know how at the end of a game when you line up and give the other team high-fives? Well, you can tell we're all moms because we all have dry hands from washing dishes," said a joking Diane Fischer, of Ellicott City.

Fischer's been a member of the Red Hot Mamas since 1998, not too long after the league officially was formed by a group of soccer moms from Western Howard County who were tired of standing on the sidelines watching their kids have all the fun.

"We started with about seven teams, and now we have 12 and it's growing throughout the county," said Dawn Peck of Pikesville. Peck is one of the league's founders and a member of the Terminators. The teams may have good-natured self-deprecating names, like the Red Hot Mamas or the Hot Flashes, but the league is like any other, with rules and referees and team standings.

Like most of the mothers who don shin guards and sneakers, Peck said playing soccer is both an escape from the daily rigors of motherhood and a way to connect with your children -- on and off the field.

"When you've not played, you don't understand that it's not that easy to kick that ball," Fischer said. "It looks like it should be easy to do, but it's not."

Jodi Bochenek plays for the Red Hot Mamas but also is a clinic coach for her 6-year-old daughter.

Bochenek said playing the game should help any parent, not just moms, learn to be more understanding and less neurotic.

"If they understand the game, then they should understand that you can't just stand on the sidelines and say, `Pass the ball to him!' and expect that that's just supposed to happen," Bochenek said. "It would give a parent a better appreciation for how hard it is to score a goal and the persistence that it takes to do that."

Also, on the flip side, the kids now get to critique their moms, especially since this is one area where most of the kids can say they have more experience.

"Our kids now tell us what we're doing wrong." Fischer said.

"I think it definitely helps out with our relationship with us both playing," Martinelli said of her son, 11-year-old Justin. "I think it's just a strong point to be involved in sports. For them to see you out there running around and getting some exercise. I just think it's a good example for the kids."

Fischer and her son both play goalie. When a ball gets past him and the other team scores, Fischer said, she now knows exactly how he feels as he hangs his head.

"After the game I say, `Honey, I know how you feel.' And he says, `I know, Mom. You do know,' " Fischer said. "I think it gives the kids more respect for us. It's easy to be on the sidelines and say these things. But once you play yourself, you really just understand more."

Even the kids agree that having moms play soccer helps make them less obsessive on the sidelines -- although Kate Whitehead, 10, acknowledged that her mom now tells her what she should have done after a hard game.

"OK. Sometimes I don't like that," Kate said.

But Justin Martinelli and Kate agreed it's pretty cool watching their moms play soccer. Even if their moms are constantly missing the ball, or "whiffing" as the kids call it.

Six-year-old Joseph Gibian said he feels "a little good and a little bad" about his mother playing his sport. Good because "she passes the ball so good." And bad because "it seems like when she kicks the ball to the goal, the goalie always stops her."

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