“Hey, when is Tiny’s soccer game? We want to be there.”
“It’s at 11:15 AM on the same field that Sally Francis used to play. But, just to warn you … Tiny isn’t aggressive. Like, at all. He loves to smile, he loves to run after the ball, but once another child heads toward the ball, he stops and lets the other child score. The coaches are putting him on the team with the other passive players. But, it’s still fun to watch!”
“Well, Honey, that’s okay. I’m going to see my grandson play soccer. I don’t care how he’s playing it, as long as he’s enjoying himself and learning to play as part of the team. I know every parent wants their child to be an all-star, but that’s a really high expectation to place on a child.”
My dad had a point. Even though I knew that the highest expectation I should hold for a tiny human playing a group sport is to learn to play with the team, I still wanted Tiny to be good at soccer. I wanted him to run fast, kick the ball, be aggressive, and score goals.
I was the parent on the sideline screaming, “Get it! Get the ball! Get in there! Tiny, kick it! Head toward the goal!”
It was clear, even to me, that I was in desperate need of a sideline intervention.
During the first practice, the head coach stated, “I’m going to watch the kids, to see how they play. They’ll play three-on-three, on two fields, during the games. The aggressive team will be on one side; the nonaggressive team will be on the other.”
When he said that, I took a peek at all the other kids, sizing them up. Tiny Tot was the tallest. He was the biggest. He was pretty agile with the ball. I figured he’d be one of the aggressive players, sheerly based on size and build. That is, until he started playing with the other kids. One of the littlest boys was a lightning streak, ducking, weaving, and charging after the ball. A little girl was good at getting into the crowd, turning the ball around, and getting it into the goal. Still another boy was fast, … way faster than my tiny human.
Although, next to all the other boys and girls on his team, he’s not so tiny!
At some point during the first three practices, however, I realized Tiny wasn’t going to be an aggressive player. He was a happy player. He was excited to get the ball, but … he was also excited to let other children score the goals for him. Not to mention, both his father and I realized something vital about our son that was detrimental to his soccer ability–he was the slowest runner on the team.
So when we went to his game, I expected him to play the way he had in practice. By that point, I was okay with it. My child cannot be the best at everything, and it was looking like he just wasn’t meant to play sports. Thinking about all the other things he could learn to do instead of soccer, I hugged my kiddo, told him I was proud of him, and then sat back on the sidelines. Right before the game, just as Tiny took the field, one of the coaches leaned down, whispered something to Tiny Tot, gave him a fist pump, and patted his shoulder. In that moment, something must have clicked with Tiny. I didn’t know it at the time, but something in my little son son had changed.
Turning my camera on video mode, I recorded the first play. In that very first video, baby boy went after the ball with a vengeance, running it down the field, headed toward the goal. And then he scored!
Well, he did lean down to “tap” it in the right direction, first, before giving that final kick into the goal. I nearly spit my coffee out laughing over that, but he was assertive, took possession of the ball, and proved his mommy and her thoughts wrong!
I hooped, I hollered, I cheered.
Basically, I was my normal, over-the-top, LSU fan self … during a tiny human soccer game.
My parents showed up while I was cheering over Tiny’s second goal. “Did you see that?” I beamed, feeling every bit of the proud mama bear. “He did nothing like this during practice! Now look at him! This is his second goal!”
Tiny’s dad walked up about that time, greeted my parents, then asked me if I knew what the coach had said to Tiny.
“No, I have no idea, I was too far away,” I replied.
“Well, right before the start of the game, Coach C leaned down to tell Tiny that he was the biggest kid on the field, so he needed to be aggressive, get in there, and get the ball.”
Which is what his dad and I had been telling him during each practice. I found it strange that, as his parents, we hadn’t changed his mind on how to play the game.
However, it wasn’t until I had spoken with a friend on FB that I realized what had made that difference. Actually, it goes a step further than even that discussion. I realized–because I love to think–what the true difference was in Tiny’s actions from the practice field to the game field.
We raise our tiny humans to share, to be respectful, to apologize if they bump into somebody, to mind their manners, to mind their personal space, and to not take toys from other people who are playing with that toy. The last rule is the most important. We drill it into their heads, daily, even adding in consequences for disrespectful behavior.
That is, until they get into a competitive, contact sport. Now, suddenly–even within the first practice–we shout to them to change everything we have formerly taught them, steal that ball from another kid, and charge it toward the goal line. We, the parents, are expecting them to understand this new behavior in a team environment … something that had never previously been taught, because it wasn’t deemed acceptable.
After my friend and I talked briefly about that, I thought I would turn our talk into a blog. At least I thought I would, until Tiny turned into an all-star player within minutes of hearing his coach’s pep talk.
It was then that I realized the other aspect–the teacher aspect. Students will hear something from their teacher, and behave better for them than for their parents. If their teacher asks them to perform a task, they do so willingly, without much fight. Why? Because they don’t have to earn their parents love and respect; they already have that. They’ve had it since birth. But authority figures, teachers, coaches? Our tiny humans have to earn respect and acceptance from them. It creates a need in our children, and a desire, to want to be the “good” kid; they want to be praised by the person they are learning a new skill from–the one who will teach them to be better and achieve goals.
I guess I should add in here that some children do not display this behavior; some kids are just plain disrespectful. I will not give my theory here as to why, but I’m noting it.
So when Coach C leaned down and told Tiny to get the ball, get in there, and be aggressive, following up with a pat on the back, Tiny Tot knew taking that toy from the other kid was an okay behavior, for this game–one that would earn him respect.
And it did.
Tiny scored four goals that day. Both of his coaches, his peers, his grandparents, and his parents praised that little boy for all of his assertiveness with the ball. The following day we even ran into a player’s mom, who told him what a little superstar he was–and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Not to mention, during the entire game, Tiny continued to be Tiny, smiling, having fun, and being my awesome, little, tiny kid.