Let’s get one thing straight: no matter what you may read below, I still hate soccer.
And not just because the French like it, although that’s reason enough. There are many rationales, in fact, but if you need just one: I have to believe that if God had intended feet to be the preferred tool of athletes, his foresight would have squashed the need for Odor Eaters in the world.
That being said, the only sport open at the K4 level is soccer, so we signed YaYa up.
I wasn’t too enamored by it. The uniform was acres too large, her enthusiasm at practice was limited to snack time, and the debate over shin guards (under the socks or over?) wasn’t exactly Lincoln-Douglass quality.
The first game was a downer too. It was a miserable affair in which YaYa laid down on the job. That’s not a figure of speech; she actually laid down on the field in the middle of the game.
When the second game came around she’d listened to a solid week of pep-talks and Successories quotes. I wandered the sideline shouting encouragement - loudly - , and midway through the game she made contact with the ball and gave it a short kick.
I gave her a huge grin and a thumbs up. From then on any contact with the ball was met with a mutual ‘thumbs up’, and her enthusiasm for the sport began to grow.
As in all scholastic efforts, YaYa’s the youngest on the team. She’s just now four on a team of K4 and K5 kids, and while she’s not the shortest in height she’s dwarfed by some of the kids.
At this level they all run in a giant pack, back and forth in search of the ball. The sight of my little munchkin relentlessly following at the back of the group is burned into my mind.
Week 3 brought disaster. With my wife’s father in the ’stands’ the team was beaten down by a larger, more experienced team .
The next week brought redemption. Not only did the team win, but YaYa had her moment in the sun.
With a slight lead in the 2nd half the coach decided to make her goalie.
“NO!,” I screamed. “Don’t make her goalie, there goes the game!”
I make no apology. I thought the lead was too slim to risk the win on some wishy-washy feel-good “let’s all take turns” philosophy.
So sue me.
Naturally, she did me proud. Not only did she save two goals, she fearlessly threw herself face-first into a melee of kicking feet to pounce on the ball. Before she got up I half feared she was going to need stitches.
Brings a tear to the eye, it does.
The next and final week wasn’t destined to be a repetition of glory. The game itself was extraordinarily well played, with defenders advancing on the ball and kids moving it to and fro - even a head shot from one kid. What a difference a month makes.
YaYa did alright in front of the goal. No shots got past her, and she diligently went after the ball (past the appropriate line, too, drawing a foul) but there were no highlight reel saves.
Next year, next year.
I’m not a convert, you understand. But I did go and purchase two books on teaching soccer, and I’m looking forward to next year.
‘Long as it doesn’t conflict with the little league schedule . . .