Spicy French Fries: Adventures in U4 Soccer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've played organized sports since I was 5. I was the mascot for my sister's soccer team when I was 3.

Yeah, I was quite the stylish fashionista. Don't hate! Mom enrolled me in ballet when I was 4 and around that time, I also did gymnastics. Truth be told, I adored ballet and I couldn't get enough of gymnastics. My sister, on the other hand, really took to the soccer field, and the basketball court, volleyball court...well, she's a natural athlete. Me, I study the mechanics. I have all the parts to make up a decent athlete and the two things that I think that have helped me the most are: tenacity (a never-give-up attitude) and dedication. What I didn't have in height/speed, I could make up with my brain. I like how you can use your noggin and turn a physical game to a thinking one really quick. Athletics have always been a basic tenet in our family. It seemed only natural that our Sugarbean would follow in our footsteps, right. The big question was....when?

When she turned two, we thought long and hard about enrolling her in gymnastics. I even went so far as to scope out a location, interview friends, and find the right time for us. I bought her a leotard, but when it was time to commit, I chickened out. I felt that it was too soon. When she turned three, I knew this was going to be the year that she would be doing something. Initially, I was going to sign her up for ballet, when I realized that the basic principles of it, I could teach her at home until I knew it was something she was going to want to pursue further. While there are other kids in the classroom, they aren't as engaging as let's say, a soccer field. Our Sugarbean has been exposed to other children at her school, at playdates, etc, but she's never had to really  showcase true teamwork (What's gonna work, teamwork!--Wonder Pets reference). When my friend told me that she signed up her son, I signed up Mari and hoped for the best. We thought we were going to be on the same team, but as we discovered, they don't normally do co-ed unless specifically requested. Even at the U4 age group, they are separated by gender. Then the email was sent out to all of the parents asking for a coach because one hadn't stepped up to do it. I waited half the day and then tossed my name in the hat. I thought I would be selected to be the assistant coach. Within an hour, I received the message that I was the head coach, thanking me for volunteering, then told I didn't have an assistant...yet.

On a Saturday morning, off we went to purchase her cleats and shin guards. When we arrived at Dick's I was excited that they had a soccer special. Cleats, shin guards, and a ball for $30! Score! Even better was that we got 15% off our purchase. I went ahead and bought a couple of pair of workout shorts and a practice jersey. That evening, when I put them on her so she could try it out, she was too excited. I asked her what she wanted her team to be called and she said, "Spicy French Fries." Honestly, I don't know where this kid comes up with this stuff. She's never eaten spicy french fries, so I blame the TV advertisements. I emailed the rest of the team and who knew that kids had such a sense of humor. We had a resounding approval for the name Spicy French Fries. Hysterical. This league provides uniforms to the U4-U6 leagues. When I went to the coaching clinic, I picked 'em up. One practice later, we were ready for our first game.

I was so nervous. Seriously, I was ready to vomit, kind of nervous. I just kept telling myself, have fun. Be sure the girls have fun. Teach them that they are little ladies and they can play, have fun, and enjoy the game with grace. Teams are normally made up of 8 players. Before the start of the first game, one of the girls had pulled out for this season, so we were down to 7. No big deal. We play 4 on 4 with 10 minute quarters and a 2 minute half-time. We don't keep score. I'd brought orange slices for half-time and for the after game snack donut holes and juice boxes. 42 tough minutes later and I was shell shocked. 6 of the 7 girls were in tears. One had completely left the game and watched it from the safe confines of her family van. The other team played confidently and seemed to understand the game. Later, I talked with the League Director and he put is very simply. Up to this point, we've taught our children to take turns, share, and be nice. When we put them on the soccer field, there's quite a bit of yelling and chaos, there's stealing, there's shoving...all of these things we've spent the better part of their young lives telling them NOT to do. Be sure to distinguish to them that when they are on the field, it is ok and they have the permission to do otherwise. Not biting, but they can "play" and win. That was great advice and I tucked it in my pocket to reference at the next practice. I also made a goal to only have 3 girls cry at the next game and 1 less parent on the field (by the end of the game, every girl who played had their parent on the field).

We also practiced passing, trap-stopping, kicking it in, and celebrating. I taught the girls to high five one another. We practiced our little cheer "1-2-3...GET SPICY!" By Saturday, I felt we were more prepared.

Tesla was ready...Gooooo Sister!!!
The game was so humid, it was like standing in a wet sauna. A couple of my girls had been under the weather at practice, and they looked mildly better at the start. One of our players didn't show because she was ill. During the week, we had another girl drop out of the season. Our small team of 6 total was short-staffed to 5. We took the field as always and were ready for the kick off.
Mari had a drive to score, but literally stepped out of her shoe. She was completely embarrassed and wilted by it and chose to sit out a quarter because of it. When she returned, she was timid, but seemed excited to be there. She wanted to hold my hand, and I let her.
We ran up and down the field. During one of the other team's goal kicks, I told her that the gal was probably going to "pass" it to her and for her to be ready. Sure enough, the gal kicked it in to Mari and it rolled to her feet. She stared at me seeking permission and I motioned for her to kick it in. And that is how the Sugarbean scored her first ever goal. She ran over and gave the gal from the other team a high five and I told her to thank her for the pass. The other little girl was so excited too! Was it possible that they were actually having fun? There were a few quarters we cut short and our girls were ready for it to be over. They happily snacked on their apple slices, chocolate bunnies, and chocolate milk. I looked around and realized that not one of them had cried! I only had 3 parents on the field, including myself. I considered it a major victory!

Now, I still need to get her to not get her feelings hurt when someone takes the ball away. (Who is this timid child?) I want her to not give up so easily and completely shut down. Luckily, we have a few more months of this to work on it. When I really think about it, this is why I wanted her to be in organized sports. I wanted her to get out of her comfort zone, learn about teamwork, learn what it means to commit to something/someone, and to have fun. Kinda like what we do at home with our family, but with her team. I see her growing more and more as she gets to know the girls more and becomes more of their friend. That brings me comfort, knowing that she already values her friendships. :) It's definitely been a fun adventure and I'm glad to be an official "soccer mom."

Any advice from you folks who've gone through this? Any thoughts?


chae said...

I like that you are with her on the field. It will get her more excited about the game and probably puts her at ease. What a great way to spend quality time with your kids!

Jake said...

This reminds me of watching my lttle Bella play for the first time. It was obvious I had to tell her to shift gears and be aggressive. Luckily she adjusted quickly. I think it's important to do drills where they have to scramble and fight for the ball, gets them used to trying to win the ball, which is really the key to soccer. I'm anxious to hear how the season ends up!

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