M.’s first soccer game was Saturday. As with her first practice, it went about as well as we could have hoped. She wasn’t the fastest player on the team, nor the best, but that fit our expectations. After trailing the action for awhile, she finally got in the mix and even managed to gain possession a few times.
It was a tough day for soccer, at least if you’re five. After a week of warm days, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the winds were howling at 20-25 MPH. Actually, the weather was a bigger problem for the fans than the players. C. and L. did not enjoy sitting in the cold winds at all, and they had to retreat to the van halfway through the game.
Before the game, the coach gathered the kids around and asked them to pick a team name. Since they have green jerseys, they went with the Green Gators. Nice. Honors the team colors, is a little fierce, and has nice alliteration.
The teams begin with a 20-minute practice, working on basic skills. Then, they separate onto two fields for two three-on-three games. Since each team has eight players, that leaves one sub per team for each game. M.’s team has a couple kids who are quite good. In fact, their best player is a girl. She’s one of the bigger kids on the team, but it’s not like she’s huge. However, she’s fast, can kick the ball hard, and most importantly can run and maintain possession of the ball at the same time. There is no scorekeeping, because there are no goalies, but I think this girl scored at least 30 goals Saturday. Seriously. When the Green Gators had possession, she would gather the ball, race around the defense, and jet towards the goal, shooting it in from 5-10 feet out. When the opponents had possession, she’d barrel in, take the ball away, and go in to score. She needs to be a first round draft pick next year, when scoring matters.
M. began the game on the bench, but subbed in after five minutes. Early on, she mostly reacted to and followed the action. If a good player wasn’t on the field to take possession, the game was more rugby-like with six kids gathering around the ball trying to kick it. Since it was her first game, I can’t blame her for not wanting to mix it up right away.
When I handed her a water bottle during a water break, I offered some encouragement.
“You’re doing a great job, but try to get in there and get the ball, ok?”
“OK Dad,” she said in an annoyed voice. “But we’re winning!”
I guess we don’t have to worry about her being one of those kids who cares more about her touches than the team’s performance.
As the games progressed, she got more into the action. A few times the ball landed near her feet and she took a hack at it. Once or twice she got possession and managed to knock it forward. She has trouble maintaining her speed while dribbling, as do most of the kids, so she easily lost possession. When she was on the same team as the best player, the other girl would often swoop in and take the ball away from M.
M. did have one scoring chance, when the ball trickled across the goal line and she was closest to it. As will happen with five year olds, she was slow to realize the opportunity and missed the chance to knock it in. Oh well. She celebrated when her teammates scored as if it was her own goal. Again, the priorities are in the right place.
I’ll admit, it was hard not to over-coach/encourage from the sidelines. I don’t think a kindergartener playing her first game understands the concept of running to open space when a teammate has the ball. Advice like that kept popping up in my head, but I knew better than to yell it out. I did keep a mental list of things she needed to improve, but understood that we need to focus on one thing at a time. In fact, our goal for this week is to learn to run and kick at the same time and avoid coming to a complete stop. I can just remind her of how her teammate plays and tell her to imitate her.
She seemed to have fun. We did have a triple-sister meltdown in the van after the game, so I’m not sure the day was a total success.
At that age, they’re still kind of islands having individual experiences. The goal is to get out and play, learn some basics, and see if soccer is something she enjoys and wants to continue playing. I think L. is ready to play, though. At practice Wednesday, she kept yelling “Ball!” and trying to run out on the field. Saturday, she kept throwing her own ball towards the field. She also enjoyed yelling for her sister. “M.! M.! M.!” That was fun.
One game down. Who knows how many to go in the next 17+ years.