This was originally published in Portland Family Magazine
In our house the arrival of spring means soccer. Well, it means local soccer since the boys and I are obsessed with the game in every season. Spring means the Timbers are back and the Thorns aren’t far behind. It means the boys’ rec teams are back in action, and I am back on the sideline coaching. Really, spring means that other people are now joining us in the parks and the streets to kick the ball around after winter has passed. Recently the boys and I went to a North Portland soccer field to enjoy the spring sun and get a couple of kicks in. As we were leaving the house I noticed that they hadn’t brought a soccer ball with them and while you don’t need much to play soccer, a ball is fairly important. A better parent might have told them but I saw this as a great opportunity for a teachable moment so off we went.
There were kids playing on both ends of the smaller turf field and as we got out of the car my oldest told me to throw him the ball but alas there was nothing to throw. “You’re going to have to make friends if you want to play”, I told them and then sat down on the sideline to watch. The dueling forces of shyness and eagerness to play were written on their faces as they inched closer to a group of kids and quietly spoke up. I could have asked for them, could have played the facilitator role and gotten a game going but what good would that have done? Instead they got the chance to make connections, join in what was already happening, and step out of their comfort zone.
Soon there was a game going and I was needed to make teams fair. There were kids from first grade up to high school and a wide range of skill levels and ethnicities. Some of these kids had little in common other than a love of the game of soccer. They learned names and even made up nicknames shared with arms around shoulders devising a plan. As the sun faded and the air chilled I had to pry my kids away from their new friends. Promises were made for next weekend and as we got into the car my oldest said he was glad they forgot their ball. “We would have just played our own game if we had our ball, but instead we got to play with everyone.” There it was, the lesson I hoped they would take away. The truth is they might have played with everyone regardless of how many balls were on the field but watching them step out of their comfort zone and find the connection was a valuable exercise. We talked about doing that in other areas of life, not just soccer. I’m not sure that lesson stuck though, their world doesn’t have much room apart from soccer.