Whether it’s a discussion of safety on roads, a politically incorrect view on participatory trophies, or good sportsmanship, Michelle knows her way around the other sideline. I wish all my soccer parents could take a class from Michelle.
Today, she’s here with a simple theme – it’s only a game. Look, I want to win every match we play in. I have designs on Marie’s team winning a championship next Monday – on my birthday. We coach to win.
But we also have to acknowledge that winning isn’t only what’s done on Saturday mornings: It’s how we prepare our kids for life, by checking our tempers and keeping the game in perspective.
I should have hugged her tighter. I should have kissed her face and wiped away her tears.
I know this.
But those boys, they needed schoolin’.
I should have remembered that there will always be boys like that.
On some sunny Saturdays, or even cloudy Saturdays or Thursdays, even the mightiest little feminists can take a day off.
In some instances, it’s better to make a friend of the girl next to you than to teach a boy a lesson he’ll probably forget tomorrow.
If there’s a game, Grace wants in.
The state soccer association brought their show to Mint Hill, and invited kids of all ages to play small-sided games. Small-sided games are the essence of my teaching. They get kids out in small numbers on small fields working together to solve soccer problems.
Grace’s group included two girls, two small boys, and two mortal-enemy boys.
I remember these boys from my childhood. They – we – fought tooth-and-nail, lost sight of the fact that anyone else existed on the field, and tore at each other like two hungry allosaurs. All with bad attitudes, red faces and hair plastered to our faces.
These boys pushed and elbowed their way to every ball, fighting even over who got to throw the ball in after it sailed out of bounds.
The coaches looked away as the boys tussled, then barked instructions when the ball returned to play. Grace sized up her opportunity, and challenged one boy for the ball along the far sideline. Their kicks collided, and the ball shot upward between their faces.
Closer to Grace’s, apparently.
The ball struck her on the nose, and the boy peeled away with it. I watched Grace give a half-hearted pursuit. She blinked away tears, then stopped running to wipe them. Before I knew it, she was running off the field toward me, face in full cry.
I haven’t seen this side of her in a long time – not on a soccer field, anyway.
The kids turned to watch this new girl run to her daddy. The field coach – now suddenly invested in the action – peered at her behind reflective sunglasses, shook his head and grumbled, “play with whatcha got.”
To him, she was just another girl who couldn’t hack it.
As Grace leaned into me and wiped tears on my shoulder, I gently nudged her back out. My heart wanted to put this baby on my lap the rest of the day.
The part of me where the coach and feminist resides wanted her to go out and kick that boy’s ass – not in a Chuck Norris way, but in a Mia Hamm Nike commercial, “anything you can do I can do better” kind of way.
But she was having none of it, Grace.
The kids on the field went on watching the dueling boys fight for all of humanity, while the two small boys let grass and clouds and passersby distract them. The other little girl, now wholeheartedly uninterested in the game around her, kept peeking behind her shoulder at Grace and me.
Tears dried and pride restored, Grace wiped her face and returned to the field.
She stood alongside the other girl and they watched the sweaty boys tear at each other while no coaches noticed. They watched the wayward shots on goal bounce out of bounds again and again, giggled when the boys slid at each other’s feet and bickered about the insignificant score.
And just like that, it was over.
Grace and the girl walked side by side, smiling and laughing, off the field. The posed for pictures with the state soccer banner, turned in their practice vests, and couldn’t get out of the cleats and shin guards fast enough. Soccer gear abandoned on the ground, they turned cartwheels and ran off together to play anything but soccer.
Was this a blow to the work of Abigail Adams, this apparent succession of power by Grace, the ponytailed proliferator of girl power?
I should have hugged Grace harder, wiped away her tears, maybe even walked away with her, practice vest left on the bench. Not every field is a battleground. Not every sweaty-headed boy an infidel. Not every clash of gender a Hamburger Hill in need of capture.
Some sunny Saturdays, or sunny Thursdays or even a cloudy one, a girl, no matter how much girl power she packs, just needs a hug and a kiss from dad, a few tears sopped up on his shirt, and a new friend made.
Even Lovisa Ahrburg took a day off from the cause and made a friend, I can only imagine.