Kid B is playing soccer again this season. But instead of the Christian recreational league that she has played in for something like six or seven seasons, she is now playing in a gimme-all-your-money, drive-all-over-the-land, players-are-gonna-elbow-you-in-the-developing-boobs-when-the-ref-isn’t-looking, hard-core league. Well, it sure is different.
There was a fair amount of ability in the old league. Players ranged from novice to experienced and they did a good job of spreading the talent out amongst the teams so none of them was stacked unfairly. There was one practice and one game a week. The coaches were unpaid (and usually parent) volunteers, some of whom knew what they were doing and some not so much. The kids played all positions and didn’t really focus too much on plays, strategy or anything more advanced than basic skills. Kid B is extremely athletic and can kick a goal with her cannon foot from mid-field, so she was very much a big fish in the little rec league pond.
We had planned to eventually go to a more competitive league at some point, but – as things go – we never quite figured out which one to join, nor did we really want to leave the comfort and familiarity of the nice church sponsored league. But then I got a call one day this summer from one of the long-standing, knows-what-he-is-doing, rec league coaches who said they were forming a third string team in a local competitive league, and that team needed good players. Baby bird was getting a little shove out of the nest. So we got Kid B to try-outs that night and she was offered a spot on the team.
At this point Kid B has been to a pretty intensive soccer camp and has been attending twice weekly practices, where the (paid and – I believe – European, which is much more soccer-y) coach has the girls run real drills, laps, and other necessary conditioning exercises that bring these twelve-year-olds up to a fitness level where they can at least stand on the field for an hour-long game, and some of them could even run most of that time. Kid B can get pretty intense when she plays sports. She usually reported after practices that her team was looking pretty good and she was excited for the season to start.
Then last weekend they played in an Atlanta area soccer tournament. They had three games scheduled (two on Saturday and one on Sunday), with the possibility of a fourth game on Sunday if they played well throughout the tournament. Sheepdog took Kid B because I had house projects to do (and, let’s face it, Mama likes to sleep in on Saturday mornings). He kept me posted on the games via text messages:Sheepdog: Losing 2-0. Red (Kid B’s) team has lots to learn. Me: Is she playing well? Sheepdog: Not many opportunities. Blue has been near our goal most time. She needs to move and hustle more. Sheepdog: Kid B on bench. 3-0. Sheepdog: It’s like Blue is kicking the ball and Red is tapping it. Kid B back in. Me: Good Lord she’s gonna be in a foul mood. I don’t envy you. Sheepdog: Kid B is in goal and they just scored. Not much she could have done. Sheepdog: Kid B just had a great save. Sheepdog: We’re on our way home. Horrible.
So, Kid B’s team lost both games on the first day, and they apparently did it in spectacular fashion. In addition, since Kid B was usually the (relatively) most aggressive and the tallest one on the field (she towers over her classmates, sometimes by a whole head), her opponents often targeted her and managed to nail her in the side and in the back with some elbows quite a few times without getting caught by the officials. Kid B was indeed in a foul mood and she was extremely frustrated about her situation.
We have to be careful with Kid B, as she does not respond to criticism (even the constructive kind) very well. I could tell, as she sat there with her ibuprofen and her ice packs, that she was missing the comfort of the league where players graciously stopped play for someone to tie their sneakers and asked if you were okay if they had kicked the ball anywhere near your personal space. She was tentative about being “mean” to other players or getting caught by the referees, even if she was just defending herself. But if she was going to progress in soccer as she says she wants to, she needed to grow up. Not everybody is going to ask W.W.J.D.? before taking a tight shot for a goal.
Sheepdog and I had the same advice for her. He told her, “Play hard. Be aggressive. Kick it like you mean it. Don’t go out on the field ready to hurt someone intentionally, but (like in a Walmart parking lot at night) be aware of your surroundings.”
And I added, “If you see someone coming at you with her bony elbow poking out, protect yourself subtly with your own pointy elbow, laugh out loud and shake your head at her while you whisper just loudly enough for her to hear, ‘Bring it, bitch.’ Most bullies will back down when confronted. Then you use your foot cannon to take it to the goal.”
The next day Kid B did just that. Her team still lost (this is going to be a long season), but her coach commented to the rest of the team that Kid B was the only player who gave as good as she got.
Maybe I should offer to hold a “Bring It” seminar for all of the girls. I bet that’d go over well.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…