Saturday, May 01, 2010

Soccer Saga

From the looks of this photo, you might guess that Margot is enjoying soccer. And she does enjoy kicking the soccer ball, especially with her dad. But we've encountered a challenge recently that has me a little frustrated and completely flustered about how to proceed.

Min is playing soccer on a bona-fide team this season, together with some of her friends from school. The team is co-ed. On Thursdays she has practice, where she happily does headers, kicks the ball around cones, and does jumping jacks and stretches.

On Saturdays she has games. Actual games, of five-on-five kids. The games last 30 minutes. Margot has been to two games. She's cried for all 60 minutes of the two games. She absolutely refuses to play in the games.

As I write this, I know that it's silly. But I just can't understand what it is that she hates about the games. (I know I am biased; I love team sports.) The girl who articulates her feelings so well cannot put into words what is frightening her.

Today it was really hot. Margot was the only available sub for the starters on the field. Her friends ran around with the ball and got red-faced and sweaty. They begged to come out. Margot refused to sub in. I pleaded ("C'mon Min, just try!"). I reasoned ("Leah is so hot! She needs a break! Can you at least go on the field so she can come out?"). I tried a little guilt-trip ("This is a team. You need to help your friends!"). I stopped short of bribery (it wouldn't have worked, anyway). Nothing. Just tears, tears, and more tears. Eventually, the other team had to give us some players so Min's teammates could come out and rest.

I am embarrassed to admit that I feel frustrated when Margot won't play. I try my best to swallow the frustration. I know that's not what she needs and I recognize that it is ridiculous that I feel that way. She's five, after all. (If you know Min, though, you know that it's easy to forget that she's only five. She's mature beyond her years.) But at the same time, I do want her to learn about teamwork, and how to play on a team. Maybe she's too young. Maybe independent sports will always be her thing (she still adores ballet and swimming). My very wise - and athletic! - sister-in-law told me of her own lifelong dislike of team sports, noting that she had a fear of letting down her teammates. Perhaps this is the issue that Margot cannot yet articulate. Who knows.

But now I am left trying to decide whether we show up to every game for the rest of the season or just call it quits. I fear that calling it quits sends the wrong message because I want her to try. She'll never learn if she doesn't try. But then again, if we do go to these Saturday games, I can expect more tears whenever she's asked to step onto the field and that seems silly. I would love to write a post in late June about how, in the last game, Margot decided to sub-in and scored a goal, sending her soccer confidence soaring. But really, we all know that life doesn't work that way (anyone else hear the theme song to Chariots of Fire playing right now?)

I'll keep you posted.


GrandmaD said...

Call it quits.There's another life out there that does not involve soccer or team sports.

Mahlers On Safari said...

My two cents:

I had a recent sports meltdown, too. Jaden and Rowan have been playing tennis and have been getting very good at it. Their tennis teacher asked them to play in a city-wide Under 8 tounament.

Jaden... who usually does great around the ex-pat kids of Masaki, totally tanked in his matches. He lost every single one, and by the time his last match came up he was inconsolable. I had to decide, should I make him play and finish the tournament. In the end, we withdrew from the last match, but stayed to root on his friends (and his sister). I don't want him to hate tennis... but I want him to realize that loosing is normal.

Rowan actually make it to the girls' finals and lost in that match. She was pretty bummed and cried, too.

I think it was their first experience outside the world of making everyone the winner - which is perhaps an unfortunately way kids are raised these days. They took it hard. But I am proud of them for trying.

I say you keep going to the practices, and you continue going to the games to root for her team. Perhaps with the pressure off she'll surprise you and decide to jump in. But you'll still have taught her the value of following through with her commitments.

Phil Jr, said...

Hey sis,

Yours is not an uncommon story. This weekend, I had two players who decided not play through to the end of the game, and a third who showed up with no intention of playing. He brought a Nintendo DS to play on the bench instead. In fact, not a week went by without some players (these are first- and second-grade boys) losing interest and taking themselves out of the game.

My advice would be: bring her to the games, but don't push her to participate. If she wants to join in, she will--in fact, my Nintendo-player decided to jump in the game at the end. As long as Margot is not a distraction to the other players, her non-participation is not a problem--especially considering her age! If I had to guess, Margot is not consciously quitting, but rather is intimidated, and not unreasonably so. Soccer when played by kids this age is more like rugby--a huge, heaving mass of bodies hurtling around the field.

Here's a feel-good story for you: this weekend, we were playing short-handed in the last quarter because of the number of players who had stopped playing. We were down 2-1 with two minutes to go, when Ben and his team-mate Teagan blitzed the opposing team and unleashed a furious, 2 versus 6 offensive onslaught that ended with Ben blasting in the tying goal from about twelve yards out. He then dashed the entire length of the field in celebration, and we managed to eke out a tie to end the season.

Yet even Ben, who loves soccer and is a big kid, is leery of the contact and inevitable collisions.

Bottom line: I wouldn't worry too much about it. Let Margot find her comfort level. If the kids on my team wanted to take themselves out of the game, or did not want to play to begin with, that was okay with me.