Should more moms engage in team sports and athletics and set an example for their kids?
I started playing soccer at the age of four nearly 30 years ago. My biggest cheerleaders were undeniably my parents. I never really noticed I was the only non-white player. even though my long, thick, black braids were unique amongst the blonde ponytails. We all had the same bright, lime green jerseys on. When I caught a glimpse of my father jumping up and down at the sidelines, pointing and shouting directions to me in Urdu, I realized he was the only non-white father doing so. I took his cues and charged on.
My parents always encouraged me to be fit and physically active. My father had taught my mother to play squash really well. When she had weekends off work, they took us to the local University sports complex and we played badminton and squash (racquet sports were a source of pride for for Pakistanis in the 80’s) and we swam. I watched my mom play and admired her for it.
I was always encouraged to play soccer. I was good at it and being quite outgoing, it fulfilled a social need I had. I thrived playing with others and tried hard not to let my fellow players down. I reveled in their praise and appreciated being included in different plays.
As I got older and started trying out different sports, rowing, rugby and volleyball, I had a tendency to gravitate to the ones that offered a team environment – as opposed to individual sports.
Parents encouraged me to participate in athletics and insisted that it would help me have a balance between social, mental, spiritual and physical parts of my life. They were certain that it would teach me time management skills. And could probably expend some of my boundless energy.
Over time, studies have proven that exposing children to team sports helps them master such life skills as honesty, teamwork, fair play, respect for rules. It teaches them that winning and losing are a part of life. It teaches them to respect and care for their bodies, and respect others. Some of these lessons are taught through tradition and culture and some through sport.
For South Asian parents who immigrated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with small children or who had their children here, their lives were dedicated to creating a better life for their families. They pushed to prioritize schoolwork above other things; respect for teachers was paramount and getting homework completed was non-negotiable.
Because immigrant parents worked so hard to establish themselves in a new country, extracurricular activities may not have been encouraged. Arts and music were considered less important than math, science and English. In addition, culture and language schools on weekends were also a priority for newcomer parents. It was an effort to maintain a connection to our history and ancestry.
Sports were just games. Fine for a few matches in the park or a game of street hockey to get some energy released but nothing that would take away from studies.
Much of the youth continued their studies and in college or University but few South Asian students made any Varsity Sports teams. They may not have had the resources, the opportunity to get the training required. If they had made the teams in High Schools, that was one thing. But to continue on in university would have been considered a distraction from the real goal: Medical School, an MBA, Engineering degree or Law School.
Many left sports aside and other than a few trips to the gym a week- the athletics were put on hold.
Our generation got married, we had children; a new generation of Canadian and American children with strong South Asian ties. With parents who are educated and working in western countries. Who didn’t have to struggle with language barriers and cultural misunderstanding.
Now we as parents are realizing the importance and necessity to have our kids engaged in physical activities.
We shuttle our kids around to practices, to games, to tournaments. We know the sport, watch the matches and include our children.
But most of the time, we “Moms”, leave out our re-initiation to team sports and participation.
During our frantic and busy week we may get a chance to steal away for a few hours and work out at our gyms. We can do some Zumba at home or dash to a local hot yoga class.
We run on a treadmill and jump off to delve into our numerous tasks, chores and responsibilities.
We do the minimum required to keep ourselves feeling healthy and fit. In the process we have forgotten what a great option Team Sports can be. Working out and challenging ourselves physically is a great stress reliever. It releases endorphins which help minimize anxiety and increase happiness in the brain.
Team Sports provide an wonderful social aspect. A sense of bonding and sportsmanship that is unparalleled. Acquaintances become teammates who then become friends. You share moments of triumph, embarrassment, joy and sometimes pain or injury.
Your teammates support you and are with you- literally- to help you win together.
Team sports provide a social connection to the broader community as well. We develop relationships with other women from communities outside our own.
It also helps to dispel myths common in South Asian culture of how women “ought to behave”. I brought my Mother in law to a game once and she was delighted when I scored and our team won. She was keen to tell her lady friends (and boast a little) that her daughter-in-law outclassed the opponents. Obviously she was exaggerating. But it worked in my favour.
Many major sports clubs have children of all ethnic backgrounds and religions participating. A beautiful rainbow of children. It would be fantastic to see that multiculturalism mirrored in the older leagues.
In my soccer club there are 12 teams in the league (10-12 women per team). There are only two South Asian women, myself included, in that mix.
When I was observing Ramadan, I explained the customs and traditions to my teammates and quite often other players who asked.. Most of them had never met a Pakistani woman before and had tonnes of questions.
It created a type of bridge building between our cultures. The similarity being that we share a passion: soccer.
A wonderful way of introducing our cultures in a universal language: sport.
We have a chance to take our kids to our games (many fathers watch the kids at my soccer games) and the children are excited to watch their Moms engage in sport. They learn, they understand and they encourage. Most often they scream “GO MOM!” at the sideline.
Quite powerful to have our sons and daughter cheer for us and see that we have lives of our own, skills of our own but are including them in the process.
Most local centers or sports facilities offer Adult Team sports at convenient hours. Weeknights after dinner. Most recreational sports teams don’t even require a practice night- just game night. Almost all attending are parents and schedules are usually very accommodating. Many teams take on extra players as consideration for when and if parents may not be able to make games due to family commitments.
There is no need to be intimidated by lack of skill passion. In the option for team sport participation, one may find a variety of sports at all levels. Everything from beginner to very competitive. Most clubs offer 30+ year categories and also offer lessons.
The environment is often relaxed and fun. Of course every team usually ends up with that hyper-competitive person who thinks the fun soccer match is a FIFA World Cup final.
A lot of the activities offered are not too expensive. They may only last for a term or a season so there is no lengthy commitment or year-long contract. One is not bound.
There may be a few issues or challenges such as clothing restrictions for head coverings, or preferences to wear pants versus shorts, jewellery removal etc. Most clubs and officials are very accommodating and if one is diligent enough to do some research and make some inquiries, most of these issues are easily resolved beforehand.
I have been playing soccer for 30 years and one of the joys of that is sharing the experience with other women, my teammates, who love the game as much as I do. I have children in competitive sports and I appreciate being a “Basketball-Mom” and a “Soccer-Mom”.
I also really value being a soccer player.
Our “to-do” lists will never get shorter. We are professionals, mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, teachers, cooks, chauffeurs and cheerleaders. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to add teammate to that incredible list.
“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, and I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion”. – Mia Hamm
More About Shireen:
Shireen Ahmed is a front-line worker in Social Services, writer and footballer living in Toronto. Her passions include #VAW advocacy, her amazing family, following Football Club Barcelona , coffee and her two cats. She writes about her experiences in football and sport in her blog “Tales of a Hijabi Footballer”
You can follow her on twitter: @_shireenahmed_