For Love of the Game

Note: Three years ago I wrote about my daughter and soccer. This post is the much awaited sequel – ok, fine, the unanticipated sequel that nobody really asked for and who am I trying to kid. Here’s hoping for an Empire Strikes Back and not a Sharknado 2.

My 13 year old daughter is getting ready for her second soccer game of the weekend. It’s a home game and the weather is promising to be almost perfect at game time. She is texting her teammates as she gets ready and they are talking about their opponents and their weekend plans and what uniform to wear and who on their team is injured and what their division standings are and how to improve – just normal soccer mad girltalk.

She is already partway into a familiar and precise routine before each game – an almost ritualistic set of actions she now performs like second nature. Crucially, no part of this routine requires any parental nagging. My preparation, on the other hand, is rather – how do I put this succinctly – ad hoc to say the least! So here’s a breakdown of the 24 hours prior to any soccer game for the two of us.

Time

What the 13 year old does

What I do

T – 24 hours Starts hydrating and voluntarily goes to bed early. Ask Dave how cold it’s going to get tomorrow and how far away the game is and if it’s going to rain. Then I either stay up too late watching Masterpiece theater or pass out at 9:30 – it’s a toss up most nights.
T – 4 hours Eats a meal with a healthy balance of carbs and protein – chicken and pasta, salad, fruit. No chips, no desserts, no pop, no juice – nothing that may slow her down. Scarf down an enormous unbalanced meal consisting of mainly carbs and fat with a gigantic soda to wash down an even more gigantic dessert.
T – 3 hours She and her dad will watch video that he has taken from her previous game. She will analyze her moves, she will watch her team, she will watch the other team, and she will figure out what to try differently. I will binge watch Netflix and roll my eyes at them.
T – 2 hours She will make herself a banana and yogurt smoothie with the flipping amazing Nutribullet. She will attempt to tame her hair – which is a futile task coz it’s going to be an out of control frizz ball on the top of her head as soon as she gets on the field. I will think about starting to may be take a shower and get ready to go.
T – 1.5 hours She will do her knee exercises and back stretches and takes a puff of her inhaler because it’s just cold enough to cause her problems. I will inhale a small mountain of Doritos as a snack to tide me over for the next few hours.
T – 1 hour She’s at the field ready to warm up with all her teammates. They are discussing the upcoming game and their chances of winning. I am in the car checking Facebook and answering emails, wondering what all the fuss was for me being 5 freaking minutes late. I am also warming up my vocal chords in preparation.
T – 0 hour Game time! 70 minutes of focus and attempting to drown out the increasingly maniacal instructions from the mad Indian woman on the sidelines – piece of cake! I am screaming…I mean gently encouraging her with soft suggestions like “GO GO GO GO GO”, and “That’s YOU”, “SHOOOOOOOOT”, “PASS PASS”, as my blood pressure spikes and my heart rate touches speeds usually associated with describing runaway trains.
T + 1.5 hours Game done, post game analysis with coach, post post game analysis with dad, post post post game analysis with dad and video! I will need to take a well deserved nap and calm the fu@$ down!

You’d think I’d get better at this whole soccer mom thing by now and keep my shit together! She’s been playing since she was 5 years old and in these 8 years she has an understanding of her own game that now seems to be in her DNA – like her proteins reprogrammed themselves coz she sure as hell didn’t get that from me!

And this year has been tougher than most.

She has had to change teams because of an idiotic new rule about player ages and joining an already tight-knit group of girls has been tough for my shy introvert. Navigating the maze of interpersonal teenage girl relationships is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube…in the dark….with your toes!

She’s gone from being one of the older kids on the team to one of the youngest and, for the first time, she’s had to endure some mild bullying by a teammate. I’ve had to endure some mild self-muzzling as I try to remember that verbally drop kicking a 13 year old girl for being mean to your daughter is not something 44 year old grown adult women should do – no matter how much they’d like to. Serenity now, serenity now!

She’s gone from being a starting forward to being an occasional-infrequent-almost-to-the-point-of-being-arbitrary starting mid fielder on a full size regulation soccer field.

She’s dealt with knee problems and back issues and having to raise her level of fitness to match her new position.

She’s gone from just becoming comfortable with her coach to having to start all over again with a new coaching team –  for her, this takes just as much energy off the field as it does on.

She’s been underestimated, had her efforts minimized, been passed over and, in one completely bizarre to me situation, had her mad skills and knowledge of the game questioned.

But she’s never lost her complete love for the sport. She’s shown up for every practice and every game with a positive attitude. She’s cheered her friends on and played with such determination and passion that every time she’s out on the field she has energized her team and created scoring opportunities.

And, yes of course, she’s made her fair share of mistakes and missteps and missed passes and groan-inducing plays because, let’s be honest – she’s 13 and it’s a little early for sainthood!

Her awesome teammates – at least 93.33% of them – rallying around to support her and offer encouragement and raise spirits has been everything – #SquadGoals. Teenage girls can be incandescently spectacular specimens of humanity 99% of the time. And then there’s that 1% when they’re being vicious snapping turtles with sky high attitude that makes you want to go back in time and tell the younger version of yourselves to keep it in your pants!

But I digress….. so back to my girl.

Her finesse with ball handling, her intelligence, and her commitment to getting better has surmounted every obstacle that’s been thrown at her this season. Because in the end she understands this crucial point –  the game will be played as much in her head as it is on the field. So she’s going to use that mental toughness she’s had to learn this year and let her feet do the talking.

I was never as good at any of this and I am not getting any better. When she’s playing, my stomach is in a knot and my chest gets tight and all I hear is the irritating sound of my own shrill voice screaming nonsense at her. If I had to also deal with the bullying and the benching, I’d most likely be curled up in a fetal position plotting an elaborate revenge fantasy.

Because when I see her shoulders droop or her head fall or her curls lose their spring – I know she’s hurting a muscle that no amount of physical therapy can touch. This makes me think some very uncharitable thoughts towards the universe and I just long for the time that I could fold her entire body in my arms to protect her.

But then she squares her shoulders and jogs into position and her eyes get real focused and her strong body explodes into a blur of motion as she gracefully swerves around the defenders and executes a perfectly timed cross ….and all’s right with the world – both hers and mine.

 

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