She could've stopped them, at least from where I stood on the sidelines. They were solid kicks from the other team, and the balls did zip along at a nice clip, but she could've stopped them. Before the quarter finished, and while the ball was being kicked around at the other end of the field, I walked around behind our goal and level-setted my voice.
"Beatrice, whatever you do, stop the ball. I know you can do it. All you have to do is get in front of it and pick it up, just like we practiced. Watch the ball and get in front of it and stop it."
"I tried, Daddy! I did!"
And although I believed she did try per her level of heart versus skill, I struggled. I struggled the rest of the game as the coach. I struggled all the way home as the dad. I knew I shouldn't have felt the way I felt, but I did. I wanted her to be better. I wanted the whole team to be better.
This is non-competitive U8 girls soccer and the girls are only six and seven years old. We're supposed to have fun and teach the girls some key soccer skills and not worry about winning or losing. Teach teamwork and have fun, fun, fun no matter what and no matter the level the girls are at. That's why everyone will always get a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season. Even if when we have a few Buttermaker moments. Thank goodness my assistant coach has a cool head and gets it, too.
But I still struggled. I grew up highly competitive, and unfortunately still am, no matter how much emotional intelligence I've worked really hard to gain in my half century. The struggle became even more complex during the game because another team member approached with her mom, tears streaming down the girl's face.
We were in the fourth quarter of the game and she was upset because she wanted to play more. Since we're on a rotation each and every game, every player gets to play two to three total quarters out of four per game, as forwards, defense and goalie. I explained this all to her, why to be fair to all 12 team players we have to rotate and give everyone a chance to play, since we can only have seven on the field at any given time. I asked if she understood, and she nodded, but her struggle was just as real as mine.
In fact, nearly every game now, before the beginning of every quarter, every girl on the team asks me if they're going to play. Incessantly. On the one hand, the sweet pleading inspires because the girls all really want to play the game. But on the other hand, it adds to my struggle because my old school organized sports brain wants to rank and play -- 1st team, 2nd team, etc.
And speaking of 1st team, there are those highly skilled players on our team, the ones who have played for a few years already, who even though are years from experiencing and understanding true competitive soccer, still feel the foreshadowing of what it's like to lose, and not play very well during a game, and to be disappointed in a teammate who's missed two goals. And when you lose.
I love my Flying Hamsters. I really do. And my daughter tried. She really did. I hope that my assistant coach and I have instilled in all of them a sense of pre-competitive fairness and teamwork and some soccer skills regardless of what level they're at. To keep the competitive wolves at bay at this age (or any age), we have to be aware of and be able to manage our generational struggle with the spectrum activity disorder known as sports.