Both of my children recently started their first season of soccer. I approached this venture with a mixture of both dread and excitement. We have dabbled in organized sports in the past, but success continues to elude us. And by success, I don’t mean wins. I mean happiness, as in we are all happy with the experience. To me, if this doesn’t occur, sports just don’t seem worth it.
As we walked across the parking lot toward the field, I feared my daughter would become ultra-clingy. We had some difficulties during ballet this winter (Her Dissapointment or Mine?) – mainly because she simply could not function if she was not directly attached to me in some way.
I also worried she would be too hesitant on the field and lack the confidence needed. When put on the spot, she tends to shut down and become the opposite of the loud, cheerful, and energetic girl I know.
However, as she walked onto the field, looking way too old in shin guards and her new dry wick shirt, she surprised me.
No, she wasn’t the best on the field, but she actually stayed on the field. On a team of four-year-olds, this is not always the case. One of her teammates was so distraught he wandered back to his parent, cried, and never returned to the field. Another player would simply sit down on the sidelines and refuse to play at times.
As the parents desperately tried to coerce their children to return to the field, I wanted to call out, “Been there! Done that!”
But this time, I wasn’t that parent! Not only did my girl stay on the field, but she owned it. She ran fast. She tried hard. She didn’t even complain! Every time the coach told the team to take a water break and she jogged toward me, I waited to feel the snake of arms around my leg or hear pleas to stay with me on the sidelines. Instead, she simply chugged her water, high-fived me, and ran back to her team.
She has grown this summer, and not just in inches. As summer flowers are fading, my daughter’s confidence is blooming. It is a beautiful sight.
My son also has a poor track record when it comes to organized sports. Twice we bailed before the end of the season. I had thought sports would be good for my over-active boy, but apparently attention and an ability to follow directions was also helpful.
So, we took some time off sports until he was actually ready and eager to play. In July, when we signed up, I decided that we were going to finish the soccer season no matter what. It’s important for him to learn the value of finishing what you start.
Of course, the very thought of making him finish a season that we both hated had me on edge for weeks. I feared he wouldn’t be able to pay enough attention to the coach. I worried he wouldn’t have fun and would complain about going to each practice. I was also concerned that he would be too behind the other players who have been playing for a couple years now.
But then, the unthinkable occurred: he loved it and I loved it. He ran, he kicked the ball, he followed instructions, and he had fun. As the hour and a half wound down, I realized I was having fun, too. After the first twenty minutes, I stopped gripping my chair in fear, I started chatting with some parents, and the best part? I got to watch my son be part of a team.
Toward the end of practice, the boys divided into two teams to scrimmage. My son was running around sort of blindly chasing the ball, and I was just hoping that if he found it he would kick it in the right direction.
Then suddenly, out of the swarm of skinny, kicking legs, my own son’s skinny, kicking leg took control of the ball. And that ball? It ended up in the goal!
I’m too practical to credit this goal to skill because logically I know it was mostly luck. However, I am also too much of a mom not to have glanced at the other parents, smiled, and pointed to him and back at me indicating, See that? That was my kid!
His coach yelled for the boys to congratulate him and added, “He’s the only one that scored a goal!” The pack of boys surrounded my son in a celebratory ritual of back patting, high-fiving, and hugging. His little face turned toward me, and that is an expression I will remember always. It was an expression of pride, accomplishment, and belonging.
This was one small moment on the field, and it may be his only moment like this on the field this year. But even if it is, I would say, without a doubt, that the season was a success.
These moments are why you sign up your kids for sports teams. Why you give up one night a week and Saturday mornings to watch your child play soccer. Not to watch him win, but to see happiness fill his face as he gains confidence and begins to find his place on a team.