On soccer and friendship

When we went into the game this morning, I had been telling myself that we were playing to win.

Our boys range in ages from 9 – 11, and while that seems like quite the spread, the reality is : they are all just boys.  The younger 9 year olds are just that, younger.  The older chaps, those in 5th grade are at least a head above the other guys on the field, but this is a non-competitive league.  Right?

One of our boys looms above the rest and if I’m honest with you, his skills do as well.  It doesn’t matter if he’s in the goal or on the field, he commands the ball and the space around him.  When he is absent, the rest of the team groans loudly and the coaches sigh inwardly.

There are those in the middle of the pack that are pretty darn good, but don’t muster up much individual recognition.  They do their part … they try hard (SO SO important!) and definitely contribute to the team.

Rounding out the crew are those who are … quite honestly … simply happy to hold up the sidelines. They don’t care if they have play time, and would rather chit-chat the game away.  Love those boys!

As a mom (my first job) and a soccer coach second, I feel it is my duty to have fair play.  Every boy gets an equal amount of time on the field. Coach’s kid doesn’t get any special treatment … and I keep track during the games of who has sat out which quarter.

BUT.

After three games of losing, and watching these precious boys come off of the field with dejected looks on their faces and sad eyes Saturday after Saturday, I decided it was time to play to win.

That doesn’t mean we tackle inappropriately, kick on the ground or do illegal throw-ins.  It just means that we play those boys in the positions that I know will garner some scoring.

It also means that for those boys who haven’t yet been identified as top contributors to a specific position, they hold the very important job of bench warming.

Remember those boys who were happy to hold their own on the sidelines? Yep, those kiddos.

They stood on the sidelines and provided play-by-play commentary.  They worked out who the goliaths were in the game and who probably didn’t get enough sleep last night based on who was and was NOT hustling for the ball.  They high-fived each other and pointed out the rabbits in the clouds.  They kicked around some dirt and then played a guessing game as to what the end-of-game snack would be.  Donuts? Subway?

I agonized over how to fairly play the kids during the game. I laid out several different options for who would start, who would sub in, etc.  I whispered to my team mom, during the throw-ins and the whistles, “Do you think the parents will be mad at me for not playing them equally?” and “Man, I hope no one gets upset because those two have been in the whole game”

In the end, when we brought them in for the half time snack of oranges and 100Plus drinks, I asked them “boys!?!?!?!?  What did you do WELL during the first half?”

Several of the boys said “We passed great!!” or “our defense was awesome, right?”

Bench Warmer #1 said “we did friendship well, coach.”

The guy that stood back and was happy to watch the dribbling, the passing, the trapping.  The guy that cheered his teammates on and then offered “I’m glad I’m not playing because it is S-W-E-A-T-Y today!” on the sidelines …

At the end of the day, THAT is what this is all about.  A group of boys that come together once a week to practice – sometimes with kids from the “other teams” and then put on their team colors for the weekend games … to learn (1) the game of soccer (2) sportsmanship and (3) friendship.

Even more important than winning a game, more long-lasting then coaching a team to victory, is molding our children into little citizens who understand that “doing friendship well” can take you a LONG ways in life.