My daughter has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old. She’s learned how to dribble the ball and throw in without lifting her foot. She’s learned how to pass and to beat a defender by controlling the ball. She’s learned to avoid using her toe and kick with the top of her foot. She knows how to keep from being offsides and how to correctly do a corner kick. And these are just some of the things she’s learned about the mechanics of playing the game.
She’s learned patience by resisting the urge to charge the ball when she’s a defender. She’s learned cooperation by working with her team to defend the goal or execute a coordinated offense. She’s learned the importance of teamwork by realizing that providing an assist to a goal is as much of a thrill as actually scoring one. She’s learned empathy by playing every position and recognizing that while she has her strengths, she also has her weaknesses – she can be a sieve on defense. She’s learned that she’s stronger than she thought she was by getting back up when she’s been pushed down. She’s learned to be a leader by putting her arm around her teammate who’s missed a shot. She’s learned sportsmanship by congratulating an opposing team on a game hard fought and won. She’s learned to be methodical by planning her moves in advance.
But all this pales in comparison to how much I’ve learned by watching her. And the little girls she plays with and against. They are all amazing. They go out on the field and they play hard with big smiles on their faces. They run fast till their legs must feel like they are about to fall off. They stay with that ball. They play their positions….most times. They play in the heat of a June afternoon or in the chill of a March morning. They learn from their mistakes and they try so valiantly to never lose heart.
I sit on the sidelines with the other parents, shouting out instructions that are routinely incorrect. Cheering on the connected passes, groaning at the unforced errors. I complain about the heat or the cold or the wind, and sometimes I miss games when they are too early, and I socialize with the other parents. Anything to keep my mind off the game because all the time, on the field in front of me my 10 year old daughter is growing up and learning about life and living – one soccer move, one missed pass, one goal at a time. And I don’t know how to watch that happen without a lump in my throat and terror in my heart. But oh, when she’s running with that ball with a massive smile on her face and just before she kicks it she throws her arms out as if to embrace the whole world – my heart swells and I am so proud of her, so very proud.