“Confidence is built from the hundreds of small successes that are part of daily life, and not from great leaps, which are few and far between.”
–Madeline Levine, Teach Your Children Well
We knew precious little about soccer in my days growing up in middle Tennessee. Kids spent most of our sports endeavors on pickup basketball or kickball games, touch football games, jumping on trampolines, doing cartwheels in the yard, and riding bicycles. Skateboards were brand new and only a few of the innovators had those.
By the next generation, soccer was making its way from west Tennessee and eventually we discovered the natural affection many kids have for this game that fits their innate skills so well. Even the youngest of the young athletes can run and jump and kick toward a goal. Hand-eye coordination or lack thereof does not preclude kids from having success. Great fun and friendship are the hallmarks of these early sports activities. The rudimentary concept of team cannot help but flourish in this environment.
This weekend we had the pleasure of visiting our family up east, something that we greatly anticipate because we enjoy our roles not only as parents to adult children, but our roles of Momsie and Doc to three bright, boisterous, beautiful grandchildren. As a result of soaking rains the night before our arrival, children’s soccer games were postponed to the following day. This fortunately allowed us to attend the contests of both our 4-year old grandaughter and our 7-year old grandson.
However, the day began with the opportunity to watch our daughter’s boyfriend (a Big East standout in college) play a match in a men’s soccer league. The setting was spectacular. Mature brightly colored trees surrounded a field that was manicured to the standard of the finest golf greens. The breeze was typically autumnal, brisk and refreshing. The cloudless azure sky was lit with a warm morning sun. Seated in my folding chair with a cup of hot coffee, next to my daughter and Doc, we settled in to engage as spectators.
Two hours later, this hard fought contest ended with the opponents hoisting the trophy and posing for a team photo. But it was clear to me that these two teams were very familiar with one another and enjoyed the competition, and also the camaraderie of their common love for the sport. I learned afterward that there were highly accomplished players on that field, some of the best in the nation in their era. It was the first entire soccer game I had ever watched adults play.
We traveled to next game among the 4-year olds, and it could not have been more entertaining. My granddaughter runs like a deer but is careful to not bump into or in anyway interfere with her opponent who is taking her turn at trying to score. Three girls in pink vs three girls in red! The smiles on their faces said it all. I loved every moment. I have no idea who won.
My grandson told me ahead of his competition that this was a championship game. Not that it actually was, but actually a reflection of how he approaches every sports activity. He plays with the same intensity as if it were the World Cup. Five boys, all shapes and sizes and abilities, vs five opposing boys. Again, I am not sure who won because everyone was blissfully happy to slap hands afterward and then get their well-deserved treats.
Three separate soccer games. It was a microcosm of the progression of skill, focus, intensity, and teamwork. But what was common throughout was their love of the activity, the pure joy of playing, and the mostly positive interactions and emerging relationships. That’s the very best of sports, no matter what ability, what age, what stakes. The youth sports arena provides an opportunity for your child to grow in many important ways, reaping enduring value from their experience for as long as it lasts.