Watching 7-year-old boys play soccer is like watching a herd of cats chasing a ball of yarn. They are but a crowd of mini-humanity moving randomly across a grass field.
It’s funny and frustrating all at the same time.
Then around ten years of age, these young athletes-in-the-making begin to understand the game. They learn to pass the ball with their feet and the proper technique to throw it in with their hands. Their feet now dance across the pitch with the ball in tow.
I came to this conclusion as I watched two of my grandsons compete in their 9-10-year-old recreational league soccer championship games. I marveled at the progress they had made in just two years. No longer chasing the ball en masse like a herd of starving cats, these budding footballers (to use the European description) had grasped the fundamentals of passing, catching, and kicking the round, black-and-white ball without ever touching it with their hands.
Their games had become fun, engaging, and entertaining to watch. Each contest also came seasoned with heavy doses of nerve-wracking emotions with every anticipated shot on goal.
But I also learned that their games could be inspirational.
It was the final game of the season — the championship game. My grandsons played on the Kelly Green Team of their local county recreational league. They were set to play the Columbia team from a neighboring county for the Tri-County League Championship. It was a rematch from the season’s first game when Columbia beat them by one goal.
Is it possible for the aged among us to get excited about a soccer game played by 10-year-olds after decades of watching the Braves, the Falcons, the Bulldogs, and the Yellow Jackets play? Oh yes!
I confess to being biased, as my two grandsons each contributed to the team’s success. The final game started with the Columbia team jumping to a 2-0 lead before Kelly Green bounced back to tie them 2-2, thanks to a penalty kick by a player genetically linked to me.
The second half found Kelly Green taking the lead, only to see Columbia score late to tie the game. It was a roller-coaster of emotions for fans and players alike. Two five-minute overtime periods found Kelly Green scoring a goal to take the lead. But with seconds remaining, Columbia valiantly tried to squeeze in a tying goal as the ball bounced tantalizingly close to the goal before our goalie finally secured it — to the relief and cheers of every Kelly Green parent and grandparent.
But that wasn’t the inspirational part.
The parents were hoarse from cheering, and the players were exhausted after the overtime game. But, as you can imagine, once the whistle blew, these adolescent athletes started jumping, yelling, screaming, raising their hands, and acting as if they had just won a year’s supply of Skittles.
That is, all except one.
I kept an eye on my ten-year-old grandson. Standing at midfield when the final whistle blew, he only briefly lifted his hands in a victory celebration before turning and looking towards the sidelines at his head coach, who also happened to be his father. Pausing only momentarily, as if weighing the significance of the moment, he immediately sprinted towards his coach/father. He didn’t stop until the two embraced in one long heart-gripping hug. It was enough to bring tears to a grandfather’s eyes.
It is one thing to win a championship game. It is another to score one of the team’s goals. But I suspect the memory that will linger longer within my grandson’s spirit is what happened seconds after the final whistle — a loving embrace on the sideline. Kids remember things like that. Don’t ever believe that fathers do not matter. Years later, championship trophies will gather dust and rust and be forgotten in an attic box, but a son never forgets the things a father does with him or how a father responds during times of victory or defeat.
My grandson instinctively knew that the most important thing was not the win, not the trophy, but that his father — his coach on the field and in life — was there with him. And that’s what he wanted to celebrate.
And indeed, he should.
Doesn’t every son long to hear his father say, “Well done! I’m proud of you! I love you!”