Irony on the Soccer Field

The little boy had such fear of playing goalie that both of his parents beseeched us as coaches to keep him out of the goal and on the field. He’d been on the team for years already and eagerly running up and down the turf with an eye for offense and a zest for speed.

I can understand the fear of standing in a big box with a flimsy net behind you and nothing but your own brawn, which isn’t much at the age of 7, to protect you from a fast mob of players and a really fast ball. In a way.

I can understand the fear of any sport, really. You move fast, but it’s just your body to block another person from advancing. There’s no shortage of bumps and bruises, trips and falls. I love to play tennis, but I still remember the time another play smacked the ball right into my thigh – black-and-blue for a week and ouch, it smarted.

And yet we play.

We play for the excitement and exhilaration, for breaking through the fear to see that we can do it and emerge victorious on the other side. We play for the adrenaline rush and the endorphins and the feeling good and the camaraderie and the open-air arms-out face-to-the-sky rush of being out there, doing something that matters, all eyes on you, the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.

Even on days of rain, we play to feel the elements, to know we are alive.

It starts at an early age. As toddlers, my children loved stomping in mud puddles and tilting their faces to the raindrops. They loved falling into snowbanks or just-raked piles of leaves. They literally loved hugging trees – face to the bark, the scent of dirt and all things living fresh upon on your nose.

So the little boy’s parents warned us and we listened. Still, we cautioned, at some point, he’s got to try goal, if only for the experience of facing his fear. That’s why we join the team. That’s why we don’t just stay home on the couch.

The mother beseeched me again this past weekend, and insisted on the seriousness of her son’s anxiety. Fair enough. They’re only 7, and this should be fun, after all. His peace of mind is more important than a small lesson of facing his fear.

But the next minute, the boy approached and said, “Coach Lynne, I want to play goalie.”

Stunned, I looked him full-on and said, “You do?”

He nodded his head, sure, definite, confident. His mother stood nearby. I looked at her, she looked at me, we looked at him.

“You’re sure?” I asked again.

Absolutely. He nodded vehemently. Put me in, his face said.

And so I did. He suited up in the neon jersey, ready to play and at the next rotation, he ran into the big white box, ready for anything.

Two goals got past him, but not much else. He met the ball full-on. His instincts were fantastic. He proudly defended his goal, didn’t shy away from the oncoming traffic or speed.

He amazed all of us.

And we learned our lesson for the day, perhaps the week.

He came off the field triumphant, a new boy. It didn’t seem as big a deal to him as it did to us adults. Of course it didn’t. In his mind, he’d already worked through whatever blockages he’d erected earlier in the season. He broke free, while we stayed back, mired in our own fears of misleading our children and pushing them in a direction that could hurt them.

A lesson for us, entirely.

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