As for me, I started playing soccer when I was five. It was the mid-seventies and soccer was exploding in popularity all over America. "Soccer Made in Germany" was broadcast semi-periodically on PBS. Pele was paid millions to play out his waning years for the New York Cosmos. And the AYSO's "Everybody plays" policy helped extend the Sixties nearly into the Eighties.
At some point I realized that I was rather comfortable with a ball at my feet, so my parents put me on a team. I played my whole young life, then didn't for many adult years, then started coaching a few years back, and now I'm consistently playing again. I play indoor, managing maybe three minutes without keeling over, and somehow I end up stepping on an opponent's toes nearly every game. Also, we keep losing to the same teams, which gets old, but I can't complain because I'm playing soccer. Complaining would be antithetical.
The club where I play offers the Lil' Kickers program which starts kids at eighteen-months-old. Last week we were able to sign up Xander for a free trial with the "Bunnies." In a couple of weeks, once he turns two, and if we decide it's the worth the pricey fee, Xander will be put on the "Thumpers" team.
They started with ten minutes of "warm-up," which consisted of about eight toddlers roaming around one end of the indoor soccer field, at times picking up and carrying a size three soccer ball, other times kicking it, everyone in their own space. As parent I tried to keep a leash on things. I passed a ball to Xander's feet as often as I could. He kicked it back by stumbling into it. Mostly, he just wanted to run.
I mean that literally. That's all he wanted to do. It didn't matter where. It didn't matter what was in his way. He was out of the confines of our small home, free to cavort as though he had all the time and space in the world.
Which he didn't.
He discovered early that the long, air-filled tube separating the Bunnies from the Thumpers was easily moved. All he had to do was tumble headlong into it and it would roll away from him, reducing the space allotted to the Thumpers. More than once the dividing tube nearly steamrolled over another small child on the opposite side.
He also didn't have nearly all the time he desired. After that first ten minutes, Coach Jill attempted to engage the players in organized activities. First, she wanted them to sit on a colored mat then tell the group their names and what color the mat was. Why she thought anyone less than two-years-old would be able to do that, I don't know, but at least all of the other kids were able to sit in one place while their parents doled out the information. Xander wouldn't sit down, let alone still, so I held him upside down like I do when he's too squirmy to hold onto properly and told the group who he was.
|Not a great photo, but you can certainly see his enthusiasm.|
Until Coach Jill pulled out the parachute. The other kids threw their squishy balls onto the parachute, circled up, and grabbed hold of an edge. Xander wasn't sure what to make of it. We tried to make the balls bounce around the middle. Then we flew the parachute up, and pulled it down over ourselves so everyone was underneath. Everyone except Xander. He'd found his calling. From outside, he ran back and forth from the parachute, attacking the airy bulge at every open point. More than once, he crashed into a child underneath, before I had to grab him again and pull him aside. The only time he held still the whole hour was when we put the kids on top of the parachute and the parents made a Merry-Go-Round out of it. I got dizzy myself from the circles, but the kids, even Xander loved it.
He ran away again as soon as the turning was done. The other kids were getting their hand stamped and picking up papers to give to parents, and I was still chasing after my boy.
The lack of actual soccer notwithstanding, we'll be taking him back. I'm disappointed that Xander didn't demonstrate grand promise as a future soccer megastar, but he clearly enjoyed himself. Perhaps the Thumpers and the two-year-olds will show him the one true way. In today's competitive climate, we can't afford to wait until he's five.
Before we left, as if to punctuate something, I put him on the bleachers to change his clothes and to get a few pictures, when he chose to step off the bench in the instant I took my hand off him. I reached out to catch him, smacking him in the mouth, but slowing his descent to the floor enough that all he got was a bloody, fat lip.
|Seconds later, pow, right in the kisser!|