The first day of soccer practice. It all started so well. Yo Gabba Gabba doll in one hand. Crayon in the other. My kid definitely wasn’t going to be touching the ball with their hands.
We even checked in and changed into our new, purple soccer shirt without incident. Kiddo ran out onto the field and started dribbling the soccer ball around like it was nothing. This kid is athletic. This kid is agile. This kid loves to run.
But then the “organized” part of organized sports began. The coach called all the kids onto the field to sit around in a circle. Everyone obeyed. Except mine. Mine ran in the other direction. The amazing assistant coach tried to coax them back over. He is a saint. As I dragged them kicking and screaming back over to the soccer ball, back over to the other, obedient 3-5 year olds, he kept trying.
As the coach was teaching the others to dribble the ball like a dog on a leash, and then letting the dog loose as they kicked as hard as they could, mine was running off the field to observe a run-off grate. As the assistant coach tried to show mine how much fun it could be to kick a ball into a net, mine was crying because mommy wouldn’t let them run off to the playground.
The thought came into my head. It was a fear I had, one that I had hoped would be wrong. “I don’t know if they’re ready for this.”
My child does not excel at organized. We used to go to the library every week for circle time. We pretend that we don’t go anymore because I graduated college and got a job and he went to school and we got too busy and… But the reality is that we gave up. Kiddo stopped sitting and listening to stories at all. They would sit for the art activity at the end, but we weren’t even making it that far. After someone else would refuse to let my kid steal their shaky egg during music time, mine would scream so bad we’d have to go out into the hallway.
We tried to go back. Rinse and repeat. We’re in the hallway again. “If we go back in there, you can’t scream. Your other option is to go home. Do you want to stay or go home?”
A single word answer that killed all hope. They weren’t having fun. We definitely weren’t having fun. So we stopped going to the library. (For story time anyways. We still go to occasionally print out papers and rack up some late fees on some books.)
This was turning out to be the library all over again. But I couldn’t let it be. If I didn’t make them stay, if I didn’t make them participate, even if they didn’t want to, we weren’t going to learn this whole organized thing. And organized is a large part of functioning in society at any age level.
The practice part of practice was over. Now it was game time. I sat my child down on the sidelines. I held them tight in my lap despite their struggles. I told them, “Look at the other kids on the field having fun. You can go have fun with the other kids on the field. Or you can sit here with mommy.”
There was screaming for 20 minutes. At least I think it was 20 minutes. Time was a medium that my brain wasn’t able to process in those moments. But there was progress. Kiddo would leave my lap, but instead of running away, they’d throw their tantrum on the grass next to me. The next thing I knew they were standing, screaming, on the wrong side of the goal. But still in the goal! Cries turned to blubbering as the other kids got close, trying to kick the ball into the net, as mine whimpered and observed. They came back to me, still screaming, but at least they didn’t go at full sprint to that enticing run-off drain.
I heard another parent say as their daughter dribbled the ball down the field, “Wow, she’s really doing it!” I was so happy for them. Truly, I was. It was what I had hoped I’d be saying about my child that day. But in all honesty, that would have been a miracle.
Sports aren’t about miracles. They’re about hard work. Sure, maybe that hard work can manifest itself in something that seems miraculous. But it’s the training and practice that makes things happen. It’s also about teamwork. It’s about that assistant coach who isn’t giving up on my child. It’s about the coach who is focusing on the whole of the team, because my tantrum-throwing bundle of joy isn’t the only one there; other kids came to learn and grow, too, and the way they work together to handle all the different situations they have going on is a great example of teamwork to the youth they’re working with.
We made progress last week. But we still have some work to do. I think it’s possible. I’m not expecting miracles. But I am expecting improvements.
I’ll be posting updates halfway through and at the conclusion of the season. My child’s wonderful coaches work with Jump Start Sports. They have a ton of different programs across a ton of different sports in PA, OH, MI and NC. My child received free enrollment because I’m writing about their experience. I feel like this is pretty obvious, but I still have to let you know: the free enrollment doesn’t effect my honest opinion and what I’m writing on this blog. All of this is 100% true, down to every last temper tantrum.