Snags is playing soccer this fall but if you sat and watched the practices and games, you’d think he thought I’d signed him up for Conversation 101. All he does during practice is stand in line for the various soccer drills and talk to the kids around him. The coach is forever calling “Snags! Are you ready?”
Last weekend his team played their first game. And by game I mean scrimmage and also I mean there were no referees or anybody “official” on the field. Well, save for the two fathers turned soccer coaches, that is. And I only count them as officials because they had whistles.
When you are five and playing soccer, the field is pretty small and your teammates are both boys and girls. Your team uniform consists of matching t-shirts for all the players.
There are no fouls: no yellow or red cards. There are no free kicks or penalty kicks. But that is probably because there are hardly any kicks at all. Mostly the team runs in a large clump, like a herd of small animals, chasing the ball around the field. If and when some hapless player does manage to strike the ball with his or her foot, it’s usually by accident and out of bounds, or into their own goal. Nothing says team quite like scoring a goal against your own, now does it?
Since the games are more or less unofficial in this age group, each team member gets to take a turn trying out various positions on the field. They can play one of three broadly defined positions: offense, defense, or goalie.
The goalie’s job is the easiest here. The ball so rarely comes anywhere near the goal, the goalie can take a nap if he wants to and still be 99.9% guaranteed that nobody will score on him while he snoozes. Except maybe that kid from his own team…
But back to my kid…the whole time Snags was playing defense he stood there sentinel, not moving except to chew on a finger shoved so far into his mouth it looked like he was trying to force himself, like some high fashion runway model with an eating disorder, to vomit.
I don’t know what he was looking at but it’s safe to say it wasn’t the ball, or the rest of the team as they came charging at him and he stood there, as if behind glass, or as if he was watching the action before him on a television set in Best Buy. Occasionally he’d swat at a bee that flew his way, but that was it as far as motion goes.
The coach tried to get his attention: “Snags! Get ready, the ball is coming right at you! Run to it! Snags! Look! The Ball!” Eventually his coach gave up and called for the other defensive player, Tony, to take the ball. And so did Snags. As the ball came his way I heard Snags say, “Get the ball, Tony!” even though clearly it should have been Snags’ ball. Being as it landed right as his feet.
Another kid on the team, Paul, isn’t much better though. He doesn’t move unless the coach Calls. His. Name. His mom stands at the sidelines yelling instructions: “Paul, go get the ball, run after it, kick the ball Paul!” And Paul shakes his head and hollers back, “But the coach didn’t Call. My. Name!”
And Paul may have a point there. I noticed that the coach is more than a little vague in describing the rules and roles and the various soccer skills to the kids. These kids are 5 and 6 years old, playing in a league where five is the minimum age for starting to play. Meaning, most if not all of the kids on the team have never played before. On the first day of practice, for example, the coach told the kids to dribble the ball. One child picked up their soccer ball and started to dribble it like a basketball. The coach sounded a bit annoyed as he said, “No! No HANDS! Don’t pick up the ball with your hands! This isn’t basketball!” He sounded, I thought, like Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own, where he yells all aghast, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
So the children heard “no hands in soccer”, only to be told later, when they played the position of goalie, “Go get the ball! Pick it up with your HANDS!” So I think they might be just a little confused about it all. And I think the coach ought to maybe demonstrate the skill he’s trying to teach. Then again, I tried out for the girls soccer team in high school and didn’t make it, so what do I know?
Since I’m not the coach, I merely sit and watch. I cheer the kids on, cringe when they score on the wrong goal, and hand over Snag’s water bottle when the coach calls for a water break. Oh, yeah, and sometimes I swat at a bee that flies my way.