Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Being a Team

We have been in the world of competitive sports for nearly four years. It's a tough world dealing with athletics, children, coaches, and intense parents. The best and worst is brought out of us when it comes to our children. As children grow so do abilities. In some cases children grow rapidly causing an increase in clumsiness. This does not mean that the child is all the sudden a terrible athlete. Rather it just means that they need more patience and encouragement. Often that is not the case. Kids are cut from positions, moved elsewhere, or give up entirely.

Too often we expect what is will always be. In sports that is certainly a poor way to look at life. Doing so only sets one up to fail. Our second daughter began playing recreational soccer in the fall of 2008. She hated it. To her credit we did put her in an age group ahead so that she and her older sister could be on the same team. That was more for her older sister's confidence than Olivia's needs. Olivia worked hard. She had to; there was no room for her to slink back. Playing against bigger more skilled girls forced Olivia to be tougher. She was the smallest girl on the field but she had the biggest determination. She tried hard every week to play successfully. At first she was one of the slowest players. Whereas her older sister, Leah, could run effortlessly with speed Olivia had to push herself to keep up. Leah was naturally gifted at foot skills handling the ball. Olivia was a little more clumsy. It's not that Olivia was a lesser athlete she was simply 2 years behind the rest of her team in basic motor skills. The coach kept encouraging Olivia but I could see that he too wondered if this was too much for her to do.

Season after season Olivia began to love soccer. We knew after she scored her first goal that soccer was deep within her heart. Her hard work paid off and inspired her to keep pushing herself. Her last season of rec soccer was the fall of 2010. By this point she was on the same team with Leah playing u10 on half a field. Again we played Olivia up. This time is was because Olivia had advanced so far that she needed to be on a larger field to challenge her skills. Again she excelled. A bigger field meant harder work but she kept at it. Despite being really beat up by larger girls Olivia pressed on. By the spring of 2011 Olivia was one of 12 girls from the recreational league to be placed on a travel (competitive) u9 soccer team. Still the smallest girl on the field she worked diligently to be a good player. During that first season as a travel player she learned plenty about patience and disappointment. Her size was a disadvantage. Constantly over looked by the coach she sat on the bench longing to play. For us as parents that was the most difficult to endure. Game after game we watched our daughter sit whole games on the bench. If she was lucky she would get to play three minutes total. She hoped for those three minutes. Often those three minutes never came. Hard. It was so very, very hard to encourage her to keep her chin up. She did and remained patient. We reminded her that if she were to only get three minutes then those three minutes should be the very best she had to offer. During one of her games she ran hard and managed to score a goal. That moment open many doors. Her confidence was boosted and her coach finally realized that the small girl could play. Olivia's playing time didn't increase much but at least she was playing in every game so that made her happy.

We have learned plenty in that time. Mostly we have learned how dark the world of children's competitive sports can be. The darkness being created by the parents. Gone are the days of class divisions only to be replaced by which team your child is assigned. It is quite something. For us, well me, it was seriously disturbing to witness such blatant cruelty. I was so baffled by the horrible words parents would use to describe the other girls on the SAME team. Words such as: slow, fat, lazy, proud, unskilled, diva, cry baby, and the list could go on. Those were things I expected to hear regarding a solo sport not a team sport. I could not understand how verbalizing such terrible things could be supportive. It's a team. Regardless of what we think of them the girls are a team and have to work together. Being uncharitable only hurts the team.

This year has been so hard. A new coach caused a stir by moving players around. Parents muttered "The nerve of him", "What was he thinking?", and so on. The short version is that some girls moved up to the top team and others moved to the lower teams. Feelings were hurt and parent anger set in. Now 10 months later there are lingering bits of anger. That is the most disappointing. What we want is one thing what we get is another. I think it is quite fine to be upset by the disappointing result but to be incapable of moving on is only hurting you and especially your child. Would I feel upset if my kid was moved down? Yes. Would I let that over take my attitude? No; Or at least I would try very hard to get over it fast and focus on what we need to do to improve. Sadly not enough people have that attitude. Unfortunately that is what kills their child's success. Watching this first hand is difficult. Seeing some of those girls who are spectacular athletes being made to feel lesser on account of team assignment is so very hard. What that does is make me work hard to prevent that negativity from setting into my mind.

What can I do? Be positive. Be supportive. Be willing to praise success. I make an effort to tell the players how well they played, how important they were during the game, and how much my daughter enjoys playing with her team. I cheer for all the girls on Olivia's team. I compliment them on their great skills. Everything is always positive and sincere. It's about being a team and it's important to be proud of the success of other children. Thankfully many of the parents on our team feel the same way and have been doing the same. We also remind our daughter that she too needs to compliment her teammates. It's great that the parents are supportive but it's even better when your teammate really thanks you for your hard work on the field. Feeling needed and important to your teammates makes a difference. We can see how that has made such a positive impact on how they play. The girls are cheerful at every game. They play hard for each other pushing themselves further each game to succeed. It has been great to see how focusing on the girls as a team has made them so successful. Each new year brings with it new challenges. If anything I hope this: The families that were together this year realize how significant a supportive team can be for the girls playing well on the field. Each win goes back to each girl being valued for her efforts. If we can remember that then next year has the potential to be great too.

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