Friday, September 23, 2011

not just a game


I am so far off of the athletic spectrum that a blind, one legged turkey could beat me at a foot race down my own street (and he probably wouldn't pee his feathers or pop a knee out of alignment doing so). My comprehension of sports vernacular is woefully nonexistent. And, I could sit through an entire game (or series of games), whether it be baseball, soccer or hockey and never quite figure out what is going on (kind of what my brain does with Math).  This is why I believed that we had reached the major leagues when First Born Son, at 9 years old, was invited, based on what I assumed were his superior soccer skills, to play on our city’s Travel league. Gone would be the days of enduring games where your child was more focused on a bird flying overhead than the ball on the ground. This was big time. We would be travelling (to the suburbs).

But, I was wrong. The soccer ladder doesn’t end at a meager appointment to a Travel roster. There comes a time in a young man’s life when he desires more- further travelling (along the Thruway), more grueling scheduling, more advanced training, more opportunities for stardom, and perhaps the possibility of a college scholarship. This beast is called Premier Soccer.

The Mr. and First Born Son had heard of these leagues, whispered in secret code along the sidelines of the Travel games. They were intrigued. One day, they covertly observed the practice session of a group of elite players in First Born Son’s age bracket. These boys were well oiled machines, indomitable in their precision; sharply intelligent; adroit in their communication with one another on the field; proficient in their handling of the ball. ‘I want to go to there,’ The Mr. said with stars in his eyes. But, as he is a grown man, he encouraged (prodded, rammed and pleaded for) the seed of aspiration to grow within First Born Son. The son obliged his father's persistent, enthusiastic petition by trying out for one of the leagues. Unfortunately during try outs, it was apparent that it was not our young grasshopper’s time yet. He felt dejected (angry at his father for putting him in a position to fail). But, The Mr. had taken to heart the suggestions and recommendations the premier coach offered and pleaded with First Born Son to consider committing to developing his skills over the winter and spring so that he could try out again in the summer. 

 “Why?” I kept asking. “Why is it so important that he make it into this league? It’s just soccer. It’s just a game.”  In my athletically challenged mind, sports were a negligible faction- something which might be included in the Interests or Other Activities section on high school or college applications. I did not know many people ( if any) who had received scholarships to college based on their athletic prowess. The truth was I was worried about his grades suffering. He had always struggled to keep his head above water in school. If we added more responsibility, more commitment, were we not just setting him up for academic failure?

I did not realize the importance of soccer until I watched First Born Son assume the undertaking of training throughout the winter and spring for the sole purpose of trying out for a league in the summer. He focused on developing his talent and maturating his skills. He opened his mind to a new way of looking at soccer, of processing the game, cultivating his abilities and addressing his weaknesses; of caring for his body/ his health; and learning how to coordinate his facilities with those of his teammates. He put in his own time at the park, practicing and seeking out others who shared his passion for the game. His diligence paid off with invitations to join the rosters of not one, but three elite leagues-with requisite commitment levels set much higher than he was accustomed to.

I have always impressed upon my children the importance of academic excellence over many other facets of achievement. But, my view has shifted. Academic achievement is a gateway to many successes; but, it is only one dimensional without the joining of a child’s talents and gifts- whatever they may be. For First Born Son, soccer is complimenting a solid academic program to create a well-rounded student of life. Soccer has become an instrument which aids him to organize and prepare for the rigors of college and a competitive world.  His renewed focus on school learning and achievement and his appreciation for the dedication required to meet and exceed educational standards is concurrent with his concentration on his athletic progression. Once soccer was added to the menu, we blinked and, as if by magic, before us stood a teenager who had become independent in his learning, motivated to accept the challenges of sophomore year. He is passionate about his sport and he knows that there is a lot at stake-he will lose the privilege to play if he does not keep his grades up.

I may be sports challenged, but I have learned enough to know when my son is magnificently living up to his potential on the field, when his decision making skills are sharp and accurate, when his sportsmanship is exemplary. At the same time, I know when he is off his game; when his feet are uncharacteristically clumsy, as if they have never met a ball before in their life; when he miscalculates the opportunity for a shot on net changing the course of a game. I know it's not okay to tell him "Winning isn't everything," even if that is what I believe in my heart. More than all of that, I know when I am watching him what I am really witnessing is a kid come into his own. And, that is pretty exciting. 

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