Saturday morning we drove to a soccer field on the other side of the planet for the first game of a weekend tournament. Our daughter Agatha, 9, has played soccer for about five years, the last two of which were competitive. And expensive. There are few (nil) minorities in this league, which I always thought was ironic considering that soccer/futbol is such a popular sport in the third world since all you need is a ball.
Agatha’s team is a great mix of complimentary talents and personalities that led to a respectable 6-4 record during the regular season. They won their first match of the tournament on Saturday, 7-1. Agatha played great. She controlled the ball well, issued laser beam passes and was tenacious on defense. But it wasn’t until the second game that I realized how good she is.
I’m both her biggest fan and toughest critic. It’s been more of a learning experience than I expected, monitoring her game closely over the years while trying to be a parent and not a coach. Especially since I never played soccer. I did play sports though, and prefer sport to theater, so any coaching I dish out is always limited to universal ideas like leverage, speed, balance, following shots, communicating, etc. To me, sport is an amazing unscripted play where passion, determination, raw talent, and refined skills determine outcomes–not a script from a writer’s imagination. Of course I want her to do her best when she plays–I know how fun it is to be competitive and leave everything on the field regardless of outcomes. And for the most part, she does that. But there were a few times this season when she mailed it in – and I’ve called her on it. I questioned her passion after these efforts–not as a way to tear her down, but to try and determine whether she’s got the kind of competitive spirit that is necessary to succeed in sports (and life). Also, did I mention how expensive this league is?
During the second match on Saturday, she answered any questions I had about her competitive spirit. Her team was pitted against a team that was slower, bigger, and less athletic–but that led at halftime 2-0. Let’s just say that the refs were “letting the girls play.” And during an exchange in the second half, Agatha took a hand across the face. My daughter is on the small side, but is solidly and proportionately built. The other girl was much taller and thicker. After the smack, I saw Agatha’s expression change immediately. Her hand went up to her nose, expecting blood and she was on the verge of tears. But the ball came back her way as quickly as it left, and now she and her antagonist were racing for it from opposite directions. They struck the ball at the same moment, and that’s when I saw her expression change again–to something like fury.
There’s a certain dull ‘thud’ that occurs when two soccer players connect on a ball during a straight tackle. The ‘thud’ from when Agatha found her fury was the loudest I’d ever heard. The other girl collapsed from the collision while Agatha tore off up field with the ball. Her team ended up winning the second game 4-3, and Agatha had a goal and an assist. It was her finest day as a soccer player so far.
And oh yeah, they won the tournament.
4 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Nov 22, 2010
I enjoyed your post. Every soccer dad has a soccer dad story.Our 10-year-old, Julia, is in her first year of competitive soccer. J blossomed into a talented goal scorer in rec last season, and we figured if she were going to take it seriously and work hard, we would grit our teeth and write the check. She has not slowed down this year (it’s strangely heady stuff when people come over and tell you they love to watch your kid play). Still, she sometimes wrestles where Agatha seems to have made a breakthrough. Although J is known as a fierce competitor with a big heart, challenges sometimes get the best of her.We went to a tournament this weekend too, but when things weren’t going right on the field (and we’re not talking disaster here — J had scored and her team was winning) she boiled up with an anger that seemed to simmer down to despair and defeatism rather than convert into good, constructive fury.J has set big, bold goals for her soccer-playing life, and you could slowly pull my fingernails out one by one before I would ever tell her she can’t reach them. But those things may happen, and they may not. As much as I enjoy watching the athletic part of her soccer experience, I’m more concerned that she get the “head” part of it right. Ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, even if she’s not facing adversity on a soccer field, she’ll face it in the classroom, at work, at home. And I want her to be able to rise up, meet the challenge, and kick its ass.
Nov 22, 2010
I know what you mean, Rob. I oftentimes feel like if she’s not going to give herself fully to this sport, that we need to try others. And because of how much time it takes to play this sport, it’s hard to rotate other sports into the deck. Agatha has great hand-eye coordination, and is usually the fastest kid on the field, but those attributes are transferrable to many other sports. Sports she won’t even know about if we don’t give her the opportunity to play. Except, she doesn’t want to play anything but soccer. I think it’s a matter of familiarity. It feels like I’m shortchanging her. Worst case scenario, she only learns to love soccer and doesn’t end up doing anything with it – but things like channeling her energy and focusing on teamwork will stay with her forever.
Dec 2, 2010
Well first, your daughter is beautiful. My brother has three daughters and all were into soccer heavily. Every time I visited them they were traveling somewhere for soccer. My one niece got a college scholarship because she was sooo good at this sport. I always thought they should be more well rounded and do other things but it was their choice – they all for some reason just had a passion for this game. Team sports are great for kids – you learn so much about life through the experience. I on the other hand knew from day one I was more of an individual sport type of person. Either way, you learn about winning and losing and I have to admit – winning does feel good 🙂
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