Joel Lurie Grishaver
Just as all parents know that Hebrew Schools are all failures; all Jewish teachers know that soccer is to blame for those failure. I want to write in praise of soccer.
Soccer is probably less successful than Jewish schools. Fewer AYSO participants grow up (especially in America) to be professional soccer players than Jewish students grew up to affiliate with Jewish institutions. The Passover Seder is probably more repeated item in adult Jewish lives than the corner kick.
But, soccer is really good at teaching some things and instilling some values. Soccer is really good at teaching players that they have obligations to their teammates. Youth soccer is really good at dealing with diversity and drilling in the acceptance of less successful players. It does teach the value of practice, the importance of conditioning and the thrill of victory (sometimes). Any questions about the good of sports, watch The Bad News Bears.
Ironically, if there is one criticism of Youth Soccer is that it is a drop-off activity that doesn’t involve the family. Like the Bravermans’ on Parenthood, we probably need more times when whole families play sports together.
Perhaps the only significant criticism of Youth Soccer (and the other drop-off activities) that our students participate in comes from Joseph Chilton Pearce who criticizes the adult involvement and control of organized sports. He teaches, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” He is the parenting philosopher who best gives voice to the teachings of Vivian Gussan Paley.
Here is the bottom line: Soccer manages to be compelling, Jewish studies rarely play as well in the elementary years. (Very few Jewish preschoolers have negative experiences). The drop-off part of the experience is more a parental complaint than a destructive force. Drop-off is not a reason to end Jewish schooling, though teaching about belonging as well as soccer teams do is a worthy goal. It remains our challenge to make students’ time in Jewish schooling as “rewarding” (notice I didn’t say “fun”) as soccer. If I was going to choose the number one sport activity it would be skateboarding for its affirmation of individuality and its goal of progression. But, the simple truth is this, I no more choose our students leisure time activities than I do their media use. My truth, I don’t want Jewish learning judged on the leisure time scale, any more than I do real school. Compelling, individual, affirming and caring is the goal of all learning. Our job is not the corner kick, but doing those things well.