Last winter, Owen had the opportunity to play indoor soccer with some kids he’s known from infanthood – one of his best friends from daycare was playing on a team and his dad was one of the coaches.
The league was really competitive for U8 (that’s under-8 for newbies like me – someone actually had to explain that to me, haha) soccer; they had goalies and forwards and the kids learned how to play their actual positions and pass to each other. The boys did really, well though – they ended up winning the league championship.
We focused a lot of our talk on how awesome it was that they were such a good TEAM; when you play your position and help others by passing, that’s how you win games.
This fall, Owen played in our town’s rec soccer league, on a coed team of 1st and 2nd graders. His best friend moved up to the next league, which is more competitive and mostly comprised of 3rd and 4th graders. (For my own reasons, I just wasn’t comfortable with doing that for Owen.)
I still think it was a good decision, but it was pretty clear that Owen was bored. He asked when he could play soccer with his best friend. And towards the end of the season, I was horrified to watch him, while playing a defensive position, steal the ball, break away, run up the field and score, all the while his teammates screaming, Owen! You are on DEFENSE! Owen, pass!
Needless to say, for me, this was hard to watch. Since Owen is an only child, I’m very aware of the only child stereotype of selfish and bossy. And I admit that I worry sometimes that because he doesn’t have siblings, he might not actually learn that other people have needs and feelings.
We had lots of conversations, then, about playing your position and being a good teammate and passing and giving other kids chances to score, too. And that it was OKAY that some kids were just learning how to play – the only way they would get better is if they got chances to score.
And really, I told him, soccer is supposed to be about having fun with your friends. Right?
Sure, okay, mom. Can I have my screen time now?
I gotta say: it’s really hard to tell if your kid is listening to you sometimes.
Rec soccer is over now, and he had his first indoor soccer game this past weekend.
This year, the coaches have added a rotating “Team Captain” designation. The captain wears a special armband, leads the team cheer and the line to shake hands at the end of the game, and gets to start at center forward. And it rotates – each week, one of the kids gets to be the captain.
Owen was team captain for the first game.
A few months of bad habits meant that he forgot to play his position a lot, for sure. I felt the same mix of frustration and embarrassment whenever I watched him forget he had teammates, focused on the ball only, and I kept reminding myself, he’s a kid who is learning that he loves to play soccer and he’s competitive and he really wants to get a goal and really, Karen, he’s seven and a half… you might be being a little hard on him. Chill the eff out. Let his coaches correct him, he’s fine. It’s okay. He’s not going to grow up and be a delinquent because he’s trying to score a goal. Simmer down.
(Welcome to the inside of my head, y’all.)
Late in the game, one of his best friends fell and hurt his knee, and gameplay stopped so that the coach could go out and help him walk off the field. And when the other kids all got up and went back to their positions, mine did not.
Instead, Owen ran across the field to where the coach was walking his friend off the field. I watched as he said something to him, then patted him on the back.
Only then did he run back to his position.
This morning, I asked him what he said.
Mom, I was team captain. You know what that means? It means my job is to make sure all my friends are okay if they get hurt.
Maybe he IS listening.