Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Growing Up Soccer

After weeks of cancellations due to rain, we finally had enough sunshine to get in 2 full practices this week.  Two hours each, the boys were breathing hard and looking pretty tired by the time they finished.  The level of practice, fitness, and endurance in Competitive is going to be much higher than the Rec league we've witnessed the last few years. Also, the field is twice as large, so these kids are covering a much bigger area. 

Barley has been lucky to be with the same coach and same team since he was 5.  With Rec, the quality of coaching is a lottery, and we won when we got a coach whose whole family played soccer.  With both parents as volunteer coaches who actually play the game, the kids were drilled on skills, not just running around kicking the ball.

After an undefeated fall season, our coach was encouraged to form a competitive team for spring.  Our team is comprised of the top players from the Rec League in their age group.  How DH's and my bookworm DNA combined to generate this athletic kid, we'll never know.

The first scrimmage with another competitive team was this weekend, and we anticipated an exciting game.  This was not part of the regular season--just a practice session to see how our team stacks up against another competitive team.

Unfortunately, they got creamed!  If this is at all typical of what is coming at us, this could be a rough season.  We have athletic kids with good focus, but the other team's ball handling skills were like magic.  They also beat our kids to the ball most of the time.

Barley himself had an especially rough game:
  1. Early on, he got knocked down, and the Coach accidentally stepped on his arm.
  2. Later in the first half, he barely avoided a cannon-shot to his face by blocking with his arms.  You could hear the impact on his forearms all the way across the field
  3. In the second half, he took another forcefully kicked ball right to his gut.  He crumpled like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
  4. At the end of the game, they had lost by at least 8 goals to zip.  This might have been the worst part.
As the Coach ran over after the 3rd injury to check on Barley, I refrained from yelling across the field, "Don't step on my kid!".  We worried from our seats instead.  This is that tender age, where we hesitate to rush to comfort our child, despite the instinct to run over immediately, game-be-damned!

There is a certain amount of "toughening" up our over-sensitive child must learn to do, and if we come too fast, the tears come more quickly.  Barley needs to learn to move past things, and shake it off when it is not a serious injury.  We don't want to be the helicopter parents who hover over every boo-boo, preventing him from learning for himself that just because a ball smack stings, does not make it  the end of the world.  My instinct to run and pick up my "baby" may cause him to feel he always needs me for even minor setbacks.

On the other hand, if it is serious, we will both come running.  We have to rely on the coach to let us know when our presence is needed.  I worry that the coach's measurement of serious injury, and mine (or Barley's) may not be calibrated the same.  I have the Nerd's distrust of Jocks, and their overly-macho sensibilities.  Yet, I also recognize that having been non-athletic most of my life, I may be too wimpy about these things.

We saw the Coach talking to Barley after the first injury, hand on his shoulder, and then a back pat as he walked away.  He was clearly comforting him, though we had missed what had happened.  We saw Barley brush his face, as if to wipe away some tears, but he was not looking toward us for comfort, so we let him work through it.  (What I really wanted to do was run over and give him a hug!)

After the second strike, he walked off the field with the same coach again, taking a break.  We watched anxiously from the other side, but he was  talking to his coaches, and they were handling it.  He was back in the game again within 8 minutes.

The 3rd hit of the game, and my heart was beating fast, as he lay prone on the ground.  The coach was there quickly, lifting him to standing, raising his arms, picking him up like a rag doll, and moving his trunk around, leaning him forward and then backward.  After a minute or two (felt longer!) Barley was back on his feet, and the game resumed.  Parents on both sides applauded.

He was back in the game physically, but not quite emotionally.  My heart felt a pang every time I saw him flinch away from the ball, or hang back when an opponent prepared to kick.

Letting go.  Not an easy thing.  Barley had a hard game, and we were really proud of him for playing it out, never giving up from either the hits or the losses.  All the boys played hard, defending against every goal to the final whistle blow.

It was hard on us too, and I have a feeling that as he gets stronger and needs us less, it may get even harder on me.

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