When our son, David, turned 4 we sought out ways to get him outside to engage with other kids because he was at home with us all day. The places we frequented were our local park and the library. David would play for a little while – sometimes with another child but he mostly enjoyed playing with his daddy. We never saw the same children come to play at the park. I think the lack of consistency made it hard for David to warm up to other kids in addition to being an only child.
Once David turned 5 and started Kindergarten, there was information about soccer registration. We signed him up and thought it would be a great outlet for his energy. What I didn’t realize was just how much we would benefit from doing this.
There was some trial and error. We knew we would need a soccer ball but didn’t know much else about soccer. After multiple trips to different stores, we acquired the needed items: cleats, shin guards, socks, shorts and the correct uniform shirts.
During David’s first soccer practice, he chased dragonflies and didn’t pay much attention to the instructions of his coach. At one point, he lay down in the field. The team utilized pop-up goals during practice, and I ordered some that day to help David practice playing soccer at home. I admired how enjoyable the coach made the experience for the kids. Before we left practice, I inquired with the coach if she had any suggestions. She offered this advice, “It just needs to be fun.”
We practiced at home one time when we tried passing the ball to each other and then attempted to kick the ball into the goal.
At the next practice, David listened a little better to his coach. He did some of what he wanted to do, but he also played with his team and burned through a lot of energy. At the conclusion of practice, they raced from one end of the field to the other. He was bummed that he didn’t win the race but with an after-practice snack in the car, all was well.
The following Saturday was our first soccer game of the season. We invited my in-laws, which I was slightly nervous about as I thought that David might perform poorly and that they would be embarrassed. Much to my delight, I found the opposite to be true in that they were happy that he was having fun and glad to have been invited. They even shared with me that their own children took no interest in sports – that when their children were young, they’d look up at the sky rather than focus on the game.
We watched David play safely as he ran in the direction of the ball but maintained some distance away from the other players. At one point he kicked the ball; but when there were players surrounding the ball he’d give himself a wide berth. When he was rotated out, he’d sit on my lap and we’d cheer on his teammates as they played. His team scored three goals. It was very exciting!
David’s team did not win that game. But the experience of going to practice and games has brought other wins to our family. I’ve loved how this sport has made us more active and engaged not only by being physical with our bodies but also by being part of the community. I have enjoyed seeing David learn how to be a member of a team, cultivate new skills and instill a hard work ethic. I think he’s even made a friend or two! I’ve come to understand why sports are a staple for so many families: sports help kids to grow on and off the field; and that as parents it’s not only fun but also essential to cheer on our children as they grow.