On Saturday, I wandered over to the playing fields to watch my three-year-old friend begin his soccer career. It was not the most auspicious beginning. Someone upset him right before the game, and he refused to play. To show his disdain, he stood on the other side of the field with his back to the game, to the spectators, and to his family. Despite pleas from his parents, grandparents, brother, and his brother’s friend, he refused to budge. He was not playing soccer this day.
Despite Gavin’s lack of participation, there was plenty to see. Americans sometimes complain watching soccer is boring. But this is definitely not true when the under-four set play. You were never quite sure where the children would take off running. One boy, each time he came to the end where his parents sat, ran off the field, took a swig from his mother’s water bottle, and then returned to the game. Another boy, when his name was called, was nowhere to be found. After five seconds of panic, he was spotted, a good hundred yards away at the concession stand.
My favorite moments came from the other team. Each time they were closing in on the goal, one of the players (a different one each time), in his excitement, picked up the ball and threw it in the goal. Each time, the coach gathered them in a little circle, held his hands up, and said, “What do we do with our hands in soccer?” And the kids raised their hands and yelled, “No hands! No hands!” Which they immediately forgot again in the frenzy of the game.
But the coaches were patient. They reminded the children of the big rules (don’t grab the ball) but never reprimanded. Gavin’s coach asked him several times if he wanted to play, but when Gavin didn’t respond, he let it go. The kids were having fun (well, except for Gavin). And they will learn a little more with each game. And one week, Gavin will rush on the field with the other kids and will have as good a time.
Watching three-year-olds play soccer is a good lesson in realizing that sometimes it’s better to let things be and live to fight another day.