Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Soccer Society

Barley has been taking a break from soccer for a while, since last winter.  He'd started playing at age 5, and had the same coach, since then.  They moved to Competitive about 2 years ago, after a very successful Recreational season where they dominated and won every single game.

The move to Competitive was exciting!  New uniforms, team logo, customized jerseys, special tournaments and travelling to games!  Barley was in the middle of the pack skill-wise when the team formed, but in the 18 months of competitive playtime, he slowly migrated to the bottom.  There were a few extremely talented boys on the team, and some who were very passionate about soccer, living the game every moment of their lives.  Barley has some skills, and he enjoys the game, but he was not dedicated enough to practice every weekend, only sometimes.  And new players joined the team over time, either recruited, or volunteering after their team lost to ours.  All these factors caused Barley's skill development, which was excellent due to good coaching, to lag behind the team average.

In the last 8 months of playing, Barley spent most of his time sitting on the bench.  He never started a game (maybe a practice scrimmage, but never a game), and often we'd be watching the second half of a game start where he'd not yet played during the first half.  This was frustrating for us, but very demoralizing for Barley.  He also didn't have any good friends on the team.  He was not part of the "in-crowd" formed by the team's elite players.  He always went to practice because we made him go, and he tried hard while he was there.  But he often left in a rage, or close to tears, because he'd gotten hurt, or been teased about his name, or made fun of by the other players for some reason or another.  I even launched a campaign to have playdates with several of the players who seemed a little nicer, trying to build a better bond with his teammates.  The parents were friendly and open to these, and the boys always had fun during the 1:1 time, but it didn't change the team dynamic much.

By the end of the 18 months, Barley was done.  Done with comp, and possibly done with soccer completely.  He didn't want to do any soccer over the summer, or sign up for fall season either.  DH and I were both sad about this.  However, we knew that the last 2 seasons had been tough to go through, and he had earned a break.  We hoped it wouldn't be forever.

So, fall came, and neither of my boys are doing much besides school.  Tired of the couch potatoes glued to screens all their waking leisure hours, we informed Teddy he was joining drama club at middle school, and I signed Barley up for indoor soccer.  He had not asked to be signed up, but I hoped the indoor environment would help ease his reluctance, and it would give him exercise during the cold winter.

He had his tryout practice last week.  Random assignment of players to teams for scrimmage, and he was grinning the whole time he was out there.  I saw him tracking the ball, talking to his teammates, and running all over the field.  Some great cross-field kicks and lots of enthusiasm!

I asked him how he felt about the practice, and his observation was quite astute.
"The kids were all more mature (nicer, he explained), but their soccer skills weren't as good as I am used to seeing.  On my other team, they were all really amazing, but they weren't very nice."

I asked him which kind of team he'd rather play on, and he immediately answered, "Nice but not as good players."  The coda on the conversation was his happy observation,  
"I'd forgotten how much FUN soccer can be." 
I think we've found a better place, at least for this child, at this time of his life.  For 9 going on 10, soccer should still be fun, shouldn't it?


  1. And that, in large measure, is why I stopped competing at fencing. I was reasonably good, actually, but not great. The competitions, however, weren't all that fun. Some were better than others... the competitions for those 40 and over were much more fun than those that included the high school and college kids, for example. But I have no aspiration to represent the US in some international event, and the big boys in these competitions were doing just that. Seemed pointless to me, so I stopped.

    But I still fence at a local club and have a lot of fun with that. Much more relaxed, good exercise, and time with friends. Hard to beat that.

    May Barley find that balance in time, or keep it if he has found it now.

  2. Jeffp, you and Barley seem to have a few traits in common. If he turns out to be at all similar to you in adult outlook, I have no worries about his future.

  3. You must keep in mind the goal of Barley's involvement in sports. Are you looking to get his college paid for or for him to to get excersize and gain the other social skills that can be derived from playing team sports. He may stay more engaged as the "big fish in a small pond" rather than the other way around. It can only help his social skills and physical effort may help with venting. Just look at his cousins hockey career.


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