The Hess Report

Monday, November 15, 2004

She Shoots and She Scores!

Maddie finished her second season of soccer two weekends ago. The cooler fall temperatures and a more active coach contributed to a much better experience this time. I didn't have to fill in coaching like I did last season, which was a relief.

Brief rundown of soccer for six and seven year olds: six kids on a side per game, 3 on 3 for actual play, no goalie, 1/6 (or less) of a regulation field. Kids generally swarm around, with no strategy other than "kick the ball!" Future stand outs are already obvious: they have their head in the game at all times, almost never want to take a break, run about twice as fast as everyone else, and are highly competitive. Misfits are equally as obvious: wearing coats over their jersey and mittens even though it's sixty degrees, whine and mope when the coach puts them in, and have their backs to the action and fingers in their noses during crucial moments of the game. Their parents have to force them onto the field.

Maddie is in the large middle of the pack, which makes me glad. I wasn't expecting her to be Mia Hamm incarnate. In fact, the opposite was more like it. I didn't come by any kind of physical dexterity until much later in life. One could say I existed in a perpetual fog that precluded any kind of athletic ability. I feared as much for her.

But it looks like she'll be a good player. She's always eager to play and can handle the ball when it comes her way. She scored a few goals and was as solid a member as you can be of a six/seven year old soccer team. Her big problem, though, was with intimidation at the hands (or feet! ha!) of the aforementioned stand outs, and she was not alone in this. Like many of the other players, when one of those kids got the ball, she would just hang back and hope that our team's own natural athlete was in a position to stop him.

I tried to get it into her head that she might as well run at the kids and take a shot at the ball. The worst that would happen is that she would wipe out and get cool dirt and grass stains on her knees. But all season, she (like most of the other kids) would just hang back when the athletically inclined charged with the ball.

"I noticed you backed off when she turned the ball around," I would say.
"She's too fast."
"Nah. You had good position. You just didn't go for the ball."
"I tried, but I couldn't."
"No you didn't. You stood there. You're feet didn't move. I was watching."
"I tried."
"Maybe you thought about trying, but you didn't actually try, like, with your body. It's not the same thing."
"Grrrrr. Daaaad."

In print it seems a bit harsh, and maybe it was. If she would have simply said "I was afraid of her. She's so much better than me," it would have been honest and a good place to start from. But don't say you're trying when you're not. You have to stop telling yourself things that aren't true before you can get anywhere. I'll take a whole team of kids who have average skills but want to work hard (she does) and aren't intimidated by people who might be their superior in natural talent.

So, the last game of the season, and Maddie's team (the Killer Bees) are playing against the team run by her coach from last season. This coach has his own son on his team (nothing wrong with that), who is the fastiest little boy in the league. He is without a doubt a skilled player and accounts for the vast majority of his team's points. But he just cannot shut his trash-talking mouth. I actually think he has some kind of problem, because he even trash-talks his own teammates, and not in a friendly-banter sort of way. In my opinion, the six/seven year league is a little young for players to be telling the other team that they are "evil", "cheaters", and that he was going to "kill you guys" and "make you eat the dirt."

When I filled in coaching for the team last season, I benched him several times for talking like that. He informed me I was a "horrible coach." Strong praise. Of course, his Dad completely fails to call him to task, and my Mom who was at the last game chastens me and reminds me that Paul (the kid in question) is really not at fault at this point in his life. He's most likely acting out against something at home that none of us ever have to see. Most likely an accurate conclusion. I feel for the kid in an existential sense, but when it comes to his interaction with my own children, I must counsel from a purely practical standpoint.

And thus, I said:

"Maddie. Don't let Paul just run up to the goal. Get in his face and kick the ball."
"Try it. He's not going to hurt you."
"All you have to do is kick the ball."

At one point during that last game, after Paul has been yelled at by our coach for calling the Killer Bees cheaters (when in reality, the Killer Bees were not cheating, and note also that his own coach spoke not a word about his poor sportsmanship), Paul got the ball again and was running towards midfield. Maddie was there. She stood her ground, kicked the ball away from his feet, and flew down the field in the other direction with no one in front of her for a GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLL!


The coach had her take a break after that, and she came off the field grinning like a fool. Everyone was telling her nice job, great goal, etc. She sat down and popped the top on her water bottle. With a voice of complete self-satisfaction she said: "I took it off Paul."


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