Monday, October 10, 2011
Kids and gravity have an affinity one for the other. A gaggle of five year olds dribbling towards the goal never fail to tangle feet and indelicately land in a pile. Then out of the spaghetti comes one foot pushing the ball into the goal. They all rise, wipe their hands and begin again. Their resilience is amazing. Maybe they don't get hurt because they are so close to the ground. Maybe they have extra padding, although I have plenty of padding and get hurt every time I fall. No matter the reason, kids run, fall, get up and run again as if they have super balls in their pants.
Most young players treat soccer as a contact sport. They love to jostle, push, wrestle, and tackle. This roughhousing becomes an important aspect of playing the game. While we would love for our children to glide effortlessly onto the pitch, weave their way spectacularly down the field, and fire a shot directly into the center of the net, the scene looks much different. They arrive on the turf, greeting one another with slaps and giggles or a friendly hug and tackle. Someone actually puts a foot on the ball, but not necessarily in the right direction. While the adults gesticulate wildly to get the team back on track, someone notices something interesting on the ground and bends over to examine it. Another player, watching the parents, trips over his teammate and lands face first in the grass. Most of the players run to see what the pile-up is all about, while one lone dribbler takes the ball and scores – in the wrong net. Everyone jumps up and down, cheering until they all tumble onto the earth.
Some players believe that landing on the ground is part of the process. Bryce used to kick the ball and then fall on his rear end. Every single kick ended with a flop. He wouldn't dribble because he couldn't do it from the ground. When we asked why he fell, he answered, ""Because it's fun."" I saw a game recently where one adventurous player had obviously seen a bicycle kick goal. He would take the ball, throw it in the air and then attempt to flip himself and kick it. When the coach tried to explain that he couldn't touch the ball with his hands, the player burst into tears. So everyone agreed that if the ball came close to him he could pick it up for his fancy play. I've watched kids slide across a muddy field after scoring a goal, which happens twenty times in a game for five and six year old strikers. Kids will fall down for no apparent reason perhaps because the earth's magnetic pull is too strong for them. Kids will fall down and discover hidden treasure among the blades of grass. And kids will definitely fall down if falling will insure a mess.
Parents would do well to stock up on stain remover, bleach, and band-aids, since, yes, occasionally a fall results in a boo-boo. Hitting the ground running has a far more literal translation for the youngest soccer players. Despite the mud, the grass stains, and the cuts and bruises, we can't ask the kids to stop. The helter-skelter nature of the game appeals to young fans. They can play an unbridled hour of running, jumping, and falling, all of which have an equal part in the fun. Chances for any major injury are minimal, so the opportunity to behave like wild horses has to be respected. This abandon has no gender and no limits. Girls love having permission to act rowdy and muck around in the goo just like the boys. Pretty pink shorts and socks can come home from practice looking as gritty and brown as any self-respecting mud pie can look.
If you haven't experienced the falling of autumn, then you'll certainly enjoy it come spring. April showers will bring May flowers and weeks of laundry. But watching how much joy these tiny players have cavorting and falling, it's difficult to deny them the explosion of letting loose completely. While soccer eventually must become a game of finesse and skill, it also needs to be a game of fun. And apparently part of that fun comes from making contact with the ground in dozens of interesting ways. The next time you see your child or your child's friend hitting the ground and laughing, laugh with them. The day will come soon enough when kids won't want to be on the ground, especially in a soccer game. Right now, for many of them, it's the only place they want to be when on the field. While we can worry that they aren't getting the point of soccer, they are convinced they have it all figured out. You can't buy that kind of confidence even if it's being exercised on the ground level.