John F. Russell: Playing game, enjoying vacation |

John F. Russell: Playing game, enjoying vacation

— For years I've stood on the sidelines of the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament and scra­­tched my head in confusion.

Not because I didn't understand the game unfolding on the field, but because I didn't understand why all those out-of-town fans traveled hundreds of miles to come to Steamboat Springs to watch their children play in a youth soccer tournament.

I mean, wasn't there a game closer to home?

For me the idea of mixing youth sports with vacation is kind of like dumping ketchup on ice cream. Sure I like ketchup, sure I like ice cream, but I don't like them together.

I've failed to understand for years why anyone would want to give up a perfectly good vacation day to watch a youth soccer or baseball tournament. I failed to understand why those poor parents dragged themselves to Steamboat Springs to bake under the hot Yampa Valley sun for three straight days, why they blow their money buying meals when they could be eating at home or why they would come here when the entire trip seems to balance on how well their child's team fares on the playing field.

At the end of the game I would watch these parents congratulate or comfort their children based on the outcome: an outcome that was soon forgotten as the group headed off to the next activity — a swim at the Old Town Hot Springs, a movie at the local theater or a stroll downtown to check out the local shops.

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I couldn't stop wondering if these parents realized that they didn't need a soccer or baseball tournament to enjoy those things in our town. They could come just about any weekend during the summer and do all those things without worrying about finding a spot in the parking lot in time for the next game or trying to help a child forget about a devastating loss to another team.

But last fall after traveling to Denver to watch my daughter play in a tournament, the idea of traveling to another town for a youth sport didn't seem quite so ridiculous. Suddenly I started to see the light that other parents have been following for years, and I realized that spending a few dollars, or a few vacation days, is a small price when it comes to our children's happiness.

What other vacation gives a parent the opportunity to watch their children grow on the playing field? What other vacation gives our children the opportunity to make lifelong friends, and what other vacation gives families the chance to focus on the lessons that are really important in life, like being a good sport, a good teammate or a good friend?

The players leave the field knowing that the game was not the most important thing.

I'm sure that most of the teams that came to Steamboat Springs this weekend to play soccer were looking for titles, but many of the families came here looking for something far more important.

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