Fall soccer is probably pretty exciting. The running, the not scoring, the weather that’s as unpredictable as a squirrel.
But I’ve never seen soccer in its competitive form. I have a kindergartner.
Put together two teams of five- and six-year-old girls and the soccer match becomes less like a sport, and more like a birthday party. If the ball were filled with candy, it would be perfect.
The Girl plays youth soccer on Saturdays and is still a little miffed her team color isn’t pink. Her team name is, however, The Butterflies, so she’ll let that slide. Just this once.
“Is it my soccer day?” the Girl asked one Saturday morning, although she’d asked the same question not a half-hour before.
“Yes,” I told her. “At 2 o’clock.”
“Can I get dressed for soccer right now?”
If I couldn’t feel her level of excitement for the game sizzling in the air, I would have thought all the jumping and squatting meant she had to pee.
“No, it’s only 9 in the morning,” I said. “Let’s work on breakfast first.”
“OK,” she said, still bouncing. “I hope they have treats and juice at the game.”
The thrill of soccer to a little girl; post-game snacks.
There are a few rules for all youth sports. One of which is this: small children are like test animals. To encourage a test animal to exhibit X-behavior, promise X-reward. For rats solving a maze, it’s cheese. For monkeys putting the square peg in the square hole, it’s fruit. For kindergarten girls playing soccer, it’s Goldfish and a juice box.
As we made our way down the sidelines with our canvas lawn chairs, a shiver ran through me. What would happen if a parent forgot a snack? What if that parent was me?
Oh, wait. A Wal-Mart bag with boxes inside sat next to a team mom. Whew.
Another rule: parents must practice the sport at home with their children.
I can go on record saying I’ve done that. Not as much as a parent who played sports in high school does, but in-season the kids and I have occasionally played catch, practiced batting, and made use of the basketball goal that came with the house.
Give me a break; I’m good with Legos. Besides, youth girls soccer teams have their practice before the game.
“OK,” the coach said, pointing at the Girl. “Dribble to the goal.”
The Girl looked at the ball which was, of course, pink, bent and picked it up.
“No hands,” the coach yelled. “No hands.”
Not looking at her coach, or apparently hearing him, she started walking as fast as she could bouncing the ball from her hand to the ground, hand to the ground, hand to the ground. I was impressed. You know how hard it is to dribble on grass? She’d never done that well in the driveway.
In my defense, I know nothing about soccer.
I’d make a terrible coach.
Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.