Sunday, October 22, 2006

One Magic Moment

Some of you know that I'm coaching my son's K-1 Football(okay, Soccer) team for the local rec league. 5 and 6 year olds playing football is awesome, because it's just chaos, and the kids are usually having a pile fun. We don't keep score at this age, because their play is so uneven that measured competition is silly. Besides, kids can be inconsolable and often don't know how to process losing at this age.

Yesterday's game wasn't quite as fun, because the other team had sneaked in a couple 2nd and 3rd graders who were running over (literally) my smaller kids and fouling the poor little tykes hard.

I kept score in my head this time. My little tykes drew. Good for them.

But in the midst of all this, there was this one magic moment I think I'll never forget. No, not my son this time. He's my main goalie, and he did stop all his shots. I should say that he has really grown, and now he gets down and commits to stop those shots. I'll never forget the first time he dived down and scooped in that ball. Hey, I had to get that in there!

If you've ever watched kindergartners and 1st graders play, they usually run in a mob around the ball, battling even their own teammates for possession, then looking up to remember which way to go, at which point the ball is booted out of reach and into another mob.

In practice we play Redlight-Greenlight to teach them ball control. We play hot potato in little groups of three or four to teach them to keep the ball moving and to pass. We practice shooting, of course, but mostly we try to have fun and give them that team feeling. They're the Bandits, and they wear black. They have their own little cheer I made up for them, which is one of their favorite things they do. We play Simon Sez and Duck-Duck-Goose. Sometimes they just want to run up the hill at the corner of the park and roll back down. Whatever makes being on a team fun.

So Saturday, they're battling with this stacked team.

Now Juan is my little moose. He's my oldest first grader and a talented little footballer. He often just drives until he either scores or gets dispossessed. The smaller kids often feed it to him and hope he'll move it down.

Juan has possession in the left backfield. The kids on the other team, especially the big ones, have been keying on him all morning. For some reason today, with me saying less than usual, my kids are starting to spread out instead of mobbing the ball. This time they spread out as though they're playing real zones. Little Juan looks across the field as he's moving foward into a wall of defenders. He sees little Francisco moving forward in the open right side of the field. Juan booms a perfect pass that Francisco traps with one touch and starts dribbling quickly down the wing. He's running almost full out across the midline and sees his cousin, Brazil, in the forward position (keep in mind, these kids don't know anything about position yet.) She's running, not toward Francisco, but toward the goal. Francisco shoots the ball forward right into her stride and she takes it on the fly, without even an adjustment, dribbles twice and shoots it on goal! The goalie stopped it, but that doesn't even matter. I felt goosebumps on my arms and my eyes even got misty.

These kids were playing real football, the way they will when they're older. They worked together. And they didn't mob the ball. Most of my little 5 year olds would have run toward the ball. How did Brazil know to run toward the goal, stay open, and wait for the pass?

It was beautiful, and I don't care if they never score another goal. Seeing your kids grow and have fun is worth it all. Juan, Francisco, and Brazil will probably never remember the play and will never understand how huge a leap of ability they've reached, but I'll always have that magic moment. I've got the bug, and I hope there will be many more for many years to come.

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