Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Madeline’s First Soccer Game

I took Sam to soccer practice today after I picked the kids up from St. Joseph.  Coach Jeff will bring Sam home.  Goodness, it seems like only yesterday when Madeline was playing her very first game…..
Madeline’s First Soccer Game
March 6, 2004

It  was Madeline’s first soccer game and we were all there to cheer her and her teammates on:  Cyndy, her mother, who had played soccer at Bishop England, is the  coach (officially); Jeff, her father, a former soccer player as well, was the assistant coach ( totally unofficially). The rest of us were mostly the cheering section: her little brother Sam; and her four grandparents, Gammy, Tommy, TomTom and JuJu.

The age range is supposed to be from 3 to 5.  On our team there are no 5 year olds. Of the 10 or 12 team members, Madeline, Caroline and Serena are the three 4 year olds. Neither Serena nor Caroline was there, probably because they thought the game was rained out.  It was very threatening the whole time, and was raining on our side of town when we left for the game, but no rain fell at the field.

They wore royal blue shirts, tucked in (mostly) to black soccer shorts (complete with drawstring) long socks with shin guards, black soccer shoes.  Those who had scrunchies or ribbons had royal blue to match their outfits. Madeline is #22 on the mighty Blue Bell team.  They clearly like wearing the outfits better than anything else about playing.

As coach Cyndy moved around the field prior to the starting whistle, Madeline was glued to her side – was her shadow, with both arms wrapped tightly around Cyndy’s leg.  This continued pretty much off and on throughout the game itself.  The referees were very understanding.

It was clear the green team had experience. They were bigger and older.   They did drills before the game. They lined up in their positions and stayed there; when the play began they ran for the ball.   They kicked it down the field many times and they scored many, many goals.  It drove our parents crazy, but seemed not to faze our players. I am absolutely positive that some of their players, maybe even a majority, were over the age limit of 5.  It crossed my mind that we needed to challenge them – after all, it wasn’t fair to our guys!  Were they playing by the rules?  But then, it wasn’t my place, so I made do with only one or two pointedly sarcastic side comments. 

To our team, discipline was an unfamiliar concept.  So was taking position and keeping it.  Madeline, though, once she lined up with the team at the beginning of the game, never moved off the line during the first several minutes of the game –just stood there where she was lined up, even facing away from the ball.  Jeff and Cyndy had told me that in practice they had not seemed to understand the concept of lining up.  At least Madeline had figured that out!  The others wandered around, no one looking at the ball, no one running down or up the field or toward the ball.  The first girl who played goalie did seem to understand the purpose for being there and tried to block several of the numerous balls that went into the net. Mostly she played in the dirt as the ball rolled over her shoulder on its way in.  The team members wandered off the field; they picked up leaves; they moved into the woods; they sat on the blankets and played with little brothers and sisters.

There were several breaks and very short quarters (I am unclear about how long).  Some of the smallest kids cried – I don’t exactly know why -- cause they needed naps, cause they were confused, cause they felt pressured, cause they didn’t like the green team making all those points, cause they couldn’t have the treats till after the game.

Cyndy asked me to take Madeline to the bathroom about mid-way through the game.  On the long walk over, she told me that she didn’t have to play anymore.  Her mother (the coach) had told her she didn’t have to.

“Is that for ever, or just for this game,” I asked.

“This game’” she said.

“Well, do you want to play?”

“No, not really. I don’t think so.”

“Do you want to cheer your team,” I asked, “the mighty Blue Bells?”

“Oh, yeah”, she said, “I want to.”

So on the way back we passed an older team who were really playing intently. She noticed.

“They are really running and kicking the ball -- they’re good,” she said.

“Yeah, and you know, how they get that way is practicing – whether it is soccer or gymnastics or reading, whatever.  Doing stuff over and over till it gets easier and easier”

She immediately picked up on that. “I can read some of my books by myself and I do gymnastics.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And can you do stuff you couldn’t do when you started?”

“I can go through the tunnel.”

“Could you do that at first?”

“Well, I wouldn’t.”

“See, it takes practice. You couldn’t and now you can. So here we are back again.  Why don’t you cheer for the team and then when you want to go back in, you can tell your momma you want to.”

“OK,” she said, happily running off to her father on the sidelines.

At first the moms and dads could do little except laugh.  The girls were so cute and clueless.  Then we all began to holler – “Kick the ball”.  “Come down here with the rest of them.”  “Go on back in.”  “You’re doing a good job.”  “Run.”  Even that seemed too much to expect.  Jeff wanted to know how much time was left.  (We hadn’t even had the first break yet!) 

Most of them had never been to a soccer game before. None had ever played before.   Prior to practice, some had never even kicked a ball or been on a soccer field.  With -minute practices going into this first game, they had not had a lot of opportunity to polish skills!!  It was also important to know that they HAD to get better and that unless they had a good time, they wouldn’t want to come back.

“Team work,” Tom said – “You’ve got to get them to understand that they have to play as a team.”  “Dad, you’ve said that 15 times already,” responded Jeff, feeling frustrated himself and trying to discover the best way to motivate a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds.  “You’re driving me crazy.  If you say it again you can’t come to any more games.”

Slowly we began to see improvement.  They began to pay attention when their parents or the coach told them something.  One threw the ball in from the sidelines with really good form and seemed pleased with the praise she got.  When Madeline was playing in the goal, she actually stuck her leg out in an attempt to block the ball.  They began to run up and down the field  (mostly down the field with the green team in command)  They looked at the ball – not necessarily doing anything -- but at least looking at it, rather than at the leaves, the mud holes, the shin guards or their parents. And they looked like they were working hard, some with shirts out now, hair coming loose from barrettes, little faces red and flushed.

By the end of the game, they were running after the ball.  Each time the ball was put into play, one of them would kick it, or at it, then the green team would swoop in and start moving it down the field.  Our Blue Bells would fall in behind and follow them down the field – all running, all running down the field, all running behind the ball.  What an improvement!  Jeff regained his enthusiasm. “And to think, I wanted to quit while ago,” he said, finding it hard to believe.  We had things to really cheer about, shouting words of encouragement to the players.  Trouble was, the cheering was distracting and whoever was moving it around pretty good, or whatever, would hear the cheers and look over at us, losing concentration.

And then the game was over.  Time for the treats.  Really different than when Madeline’s Dad was playing – before healthy eating came into vogue.  Their treat was always some sugary drink or other.  Not this crew.  Ice cold water and a cup full of grapes. Jeff quickly pointed out, “Yeah, playing soccer means getting treats.”  (That’ll motivate ‘em!)  Many high fives, many hugs and a line up to high five the winning team.  Nobody was keeping score (well, I guess somebody was, officially or unofficially, but WE weren’t) Of course we found out later that all the Dads knew EXACTLY what the score was.  The green team parents, siblings, and coaches lined up to make a bridge for them to run under and our team got to run through it too.  “We’ll have to do that next time,” someone said.

We gathered our stuff up and headed off to the cars.  Madeline was unhappy (not about the game)  and I couldn’t figure out  what it was about, but saw her cheer up when she was assured that the grapes were the immediate after game treat and her promised ice cream treat was not off the table, but coming up soon.

Cyndy, Sam, Gammy and Tommy loaded up into the car.  As we passed on by, walking toward our own car, I heard Jeff and Madeline talking as they waited their turn to get in.

Jeff spoke. “When, we get home this afternoon, we’ll get that goal out and set it up and practice some.”

“Ok,” she said, distractedly, thinking about the ice cream.

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