Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lessons in soccer and chickens

To be completely honest, Asher's soccer season has been kicking my ass.

Every year, the practices get a little longer, the tournaments multiply like lice. This season, I've been completely late to the game, in all respects of that statement. It doesn't help that Asher is also playing on an Ultimate Frisbee team this fall, the other official sport of Seattle. It doesn't help that Ed is away on Seahawks duty for most of the fall.

Today, we were on schedule for Asher's game. But then we forgot the water bottle. And then Noé refused to enter the car for ten full minutes. Suddenly, we were behind schedule. We headed towards Queen Anne, my Seattle neighborhood driving nemesis. If I'm not stuck in traffic, I get lost somewhere on that giant Ant Hill in the Sky. Today was a little of both. Asher rolled out of our moving Honda CRV as we reached the stadium, just minutes...ok, maybe seconds... before kickoff.  I searched for parking. Noé quietly contemplated how to make this game especially miserable for me.

Navigating Asher's busy schedule with Noé in tow requires a lot of logistical planning. I drop off Asher at practice, we play at the park with snacks on hand. Game day? I take Asher to his game, then find a nearby hike. We hike until halftime. I go back to the game to check on Asher and to see if he needs his inhaler, and to sneak in a quick high five. Noé and I go find a treat around the neighborhood during the second half, and then come back and watch the final five minutes of the game. I try and cheer extra hard so Asher will forget I'm not watching him the other 55 minutes.

I got a lucky break today. The stadium had a whole section of empty seating near the field where Asher was playing. Noé happily began stomping up and down the aluminum stairs, "thump...thump.... thump....splash...splash...splash." I found a wet bleacher and sat down.

Asher doesn't have a pro contract, or probably even a college scholarship, in his soccer future. But, for the first time all season, I really watched him play. And I was in complete awe.

His legs are growing and he has serious speed. When did that happen?

His coach is a yeller. But instead of getting down on himself, my sensitive kid kept his head high and did his best to follow his coach's instructions.

When he had a decent shot on goal, he push passed the ball over to his teammate, who had an even better look at the goal.

On the sideline, he cheered hard and gave out high fives to all of his teammates.

Today, they lost by three goals. It was indeed a rare loss for the Gold Division Lucky Chickens. Yes, that is their team name. The very best thing is when the coach shouts "Hey, Chickens!" at the top of his lungs and eleven tween boys turn their heads in unison.

But Asher hustled and ran down balls and slide-tackled opposing players until the final whistle blew.

The Lucky Chickens have played together for three years. They are not the most athletic or even the most skilled group, but their coach has taught them to work together within a system that enhances their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. It is soccer's version of the Triangle Offense adapted to a group of rowdy, amateur and sometimes immature 11 year olds. The kids have bought into this system as their wins have piled up. They all have their roles, they all understand the rules of the system. There are no stars, truly. Everyone's role is equally important. A goal scored is a team success, a goal given up is a team failure. They win with grace. And today, they lost with grace. When luck is not on the Chickens' side, they identify the problem, and fix it. On the field. Together.

These are lessons that Asher, or anyone else, won't learn from a book or in a classroom and definitely not in front of a screen. Sometimes, we need to outsource the most important learning opportunities for our kids. And sometimes the best source of these life lessons is a crazy, hollering coach and his flock of tween chicks. Even if it means our evenings are spent in traffic and our dinners are cold and our weekends are booked.

I think I forgot all of this until today. When I got to watch my own Lucky Chicken and found some new perspective.


Tricia Norton said...

I love this. I am such a wimp about letting my kids play sports because it is so much work for me. But I watched Ben play soccer in his little class last week and screamed like crazy for him!!

Laura said...

Z "plays" in an AYSO VIP team called the "Red Hot Chili Peppers." Play is in quotation marks because Zack doesn't always play; when I brought him he clung to my leg (so I make J take him, who reports Z most often runs around being goofy, but sometimes will participate in drills or run near the ball). Very Important Player = all abilities league: some are in wheelchairs, some are autism spectrum, some are Down syndrome. All are paired with a volunteer high school or college volunteer buddy to encourage and play with them at whatever level they are able to play. (Some players might get a loose scrimmage going in one corner of the field, while another child who can't handle the chaos might kick the ball back and forth with just his or her buddy on the sideline away from the others.) Nice to hear your perspective and have hope that a few years down the line Z might be developing more than just running skills. Right now it just feels like a waste of our Sunday morning, but at least he's getting outside and running around, and there is patience with his behavior that I know wouldn't fly in a more competitive league.