November 22, 2004

Egregiously Gratuitous Domestic Posting (TM)

May I just take a minute of your valuable time to tell you how proud of my six year old I am? I may? Why, thank you.

Saturday was the girl's last soccer game for the season. And it turned out, I think, to be one of those memories that I will always cherish.

You see, this fall was her first experience in an organized team sport and we were, how shall I say, a little leery about what might happen. We never had any doubts about her physical capacity to do well - the girl is a natural jock and seems to have particularly good ball sense. Rather, what we were concerned with was her mental game. For one thing, she was one of only two girls to join the team in the fall - the rest of them had been playing together since last spring - and she and her teammates are now at the age where cliques, in-crowds, rivalries and jealousies start forming naturally. For another, the girl has always had a hair-trigger temper and a marked tendency to fly into rages of indignation where she perceives things as not being the way they ought to be in her opinion.

In fact, most of the season went pretty well. But two sources of trouble were slowly building up the pressure. First, one of her best friends happens to be on the team. But she and this friend started fighting over another girl at school, jockeying, as it were, to be top dog of the three, and it all spilled over onto the soccer field as well. Second, as the season progressed, all of the kids started playing more aggressively, leading to an increase in the number of kicks, shoves and knockdowns. Things finally came to a head about three weeks ago when, after proceeding to get into a fight with her friend and acting extremely bratty in general, the girl flew to pieces on the field after getting tripped up by accident. I saw the look the coach was giving her, that look that says, "this is more trouble than it's worth," and removed her from the game, driving her home in extremely stony silence. I will say for her that I think she was actually disgusted with herself for the way she had behaved, because she didn't even try to justify it to me.

Well. We had a very long talk when we got home. We talked about a lot of interconnected ideas. Friendship, cooperation, teamwork, toughness, sportsmanship, maturity - all of these themes were woven into my lecture. Now this was hardly the first time I had spoken to her about these things, but I definitely got the impression that she was actually listening for once.

Last week, it was obvious that the girl had taken to heart a great deal of what I had said. She played a great game. She kept up a positive attitude the entire time, getting on with all of her teammates and not once being difficult about anything. But here is where it begins to get to the next level, because this was not enough for her. You see, the coach was out of town last weekend and one of the other dads was subbing. One of the first things the girl said to me as she came off the field was how much she was looking forward to the next game so that she could "prove" to her coach how much better she was. That's pretty much all she talked about all week.

Thus it came around to Saturday. It was a raw, misty, drizzly afternoon and the field was pretty muddy. The other team turned out to be one of the better ones in the league. And the girl had been complaining during the week that she had crocked her ankle on the playground, although by game time she insisted that it felt fine. As the game began, I really wasn't sure what to expect.

Well, to put it bluntly, the girl played her heart out. As I mentioned, the level of aggressiveness of play had steadily been increasing as all the kids got more confident in their skills. It all seemed to come out in this final game. I saw the girl get kicked, tripped and knocked down half a dozen times. But every time she was back on her feet in a flash. And she was dishing it out as much as she was taking it - any number of times she swooped in and stole the ball from her opponents, including one girl who was quite a bit bigger than her. The teamwork was genuine as well - I positively saw several downfield rushes in which she and her teammates methodically passed the ball to each other, something that didn't happen much even when I was playing soccer in junior high. And she never gave up - not once did she complain when she came out for a break. Rather, she got a drink of water, braced herself up and was eagerly ready to go when waived back in by the coach.

The culminating moment for me really came at the end of the game. The whistle blew and off trotted my girl. By then, the rain had become pretty steady. Her hands, elbows, knees and shoes were covered with mud. She was dripping with sweat and heaving like a bellows. But as she grabbed her water bottle and poured it over her head, she also was grinning from ear to ear like a maniac. She knew she had done well. She knew the coach was very pleased. She knew I was very pleased. And she was extremely pleased with herself. Well, what can I say? I love the girl so much that I actually started to get a little misty-eyed as I stood there watching her revel in her triumph.

There was an end of the year team party after the game. As is the norm these days, everyone got an award of one kind or another. But the coach gave the first award to my girl. It was for "courage". In this case, it really was earned.

Back when Steve-O and I rowed crew together, our coach was fond of playing David Bowie's "Changes" during team workouts. ("Turn and face the strain, ch-ch-changes.") What filled me with so much pride and joy on Saturday was watching my girl make the change. Watching her recognize what needed to be done and then going for it. Watching her pick herself up and take control. In short, watching her grow up. I can't think of anything more fulfilling for a parent.

Posted by Robert at November 22, 2004 09:58 AM | TrackBack

Oh, my gosh! A non-stereotypical Dad - he's involved, he's smart, he wisely trains up his child in the way she should go...

What a wonderful thing to see in your child - maturity and courage. She must have a set of great parents to display such character. After all, it's not about never making mistakes, it's about owning up to them and doing better next time.

Give your young 'un a "brava" from me, too!

Posted by: Romeocat at November 22, 2004 10:18 AM

That's great, Robbo. Congratulate Llama-ette #1 for me. This is as good as coming up with the word "chappy."

It's stuff like this that makes me way entirely too bitter that my father refused to let me play soccer when I was Llama-ette #1's age. Our "youngest" brother (he's actually older than us)was a Soccer God (TM). Seriously. If we'd lived in Europe or South America, rather than Nebraska, I swear he would have gone pro. Excellent midfielder. Of course, my sister and I attended all of his games (too many to count)and we wanted to play, too. My father refused: he didn't want his little girls to have bruised shins. (This being the day and age before shin guards were prevalent.) I believe I missed out on some valuable life lessons as a result. Not to mention that because I didn't play sports when I was a kid, I have absolutely no sense of coordination and am still tripping over myself to this very day.

Posted by: Kathy at November 22, 2004 10:54 AM

Congrats to your Llama-ette and a hearty yip to Dad as well.

Posted by: Ted at November 22, 2004 12:21 PM

Thanks, friends. And thanks for indulging my little outbursts of fatherly wallowing.

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 22, 2004 02:36 PM

Congratulations to your daughter for playing well against all odds, esp. pushy teammates.
My daughter is almost 16. She's played soccer since she was 3. We live in a small town so the majority of her playing time has been with boys, including the last 3 years playing Boy's varsity soccer. Her biggest challenge has been with her own teammates, who know she is a good player (starting center-mid), but continue to push her both physically and mentally until she starts pushing back. It sounds mean and sometimes she gets mad, but it does make her play more aggressively which in the long run makes her a better player. Her big play this last season was a game winning left footed goal from 18 yds. out in the last seconds of the game against a much bigger school and huge guys. She felt great!
She desires to play college soccer so we are now into the soccer Mom and Dad mode where we travel to the big city (2 hours each way) for Girl's club soccer and ODP (Olympic Development Program)three times a week. This also includes trips around the US and many tournaments. But she loves it and we want to give her the chance to fulfil her dream.
So good luck to your daughter! When I was her age it was unheard of for girls to play a physical contact sport. Now when I watch my daughter and other girls play, I realize how much confidence they gain by that little bit of control they can exercise on the field. Even if she quits tomorrow (which is her right) it will have been worth all the time and money we've spent for her to haved gained that confidence.

Posted by: k.mason at November 22, 2004 02:42 PM
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