It’s another beautiful fall morning. It’s the kind of morning where you open the drapes, look out at the deep blue sky, the splashes of color around the trees, realize it’s 40 degrees outside (and a Saturday), shiver, and go back to bed.
Alas, that isn’t an option. I’m a Soccer Dad. I wake my son, Daniel, and get him in the bath then dress him in his uniform: soccer cleats, chin pads, black socks, black shorts and a T-shirt from the Belvidere Park District Soccer Squirts.
I don’t know how the coaches manage to do it. Before the game, Daniel and I run some drills in the front yard, making permanent shadows with our shoes in the wet grass. Daniel kicks the ball once, twice, five times.
“What do you need to do?” I ask him.
“Kick the ball,” Daniel replies. He’s giggling and running in circles. I know that’s enough for now. We jump in the car and drive over to Lincoln Park.
Soccer Squirts play the first games of the morning. A low mist still hangs over much of the area. Kids are sorted by the color of their T-shirts. Daniel has a bright orange shirt. He joins the huddle around Coach Krista for the morning exercises. I join the loose group of parents on the sidelines. Most are sitting in folding chairs. Some are like me, shooting footage for the folks back home. I’m not wasting hope for a winning goal from Daniel, I don’t even care if he scores a goal at all (though it would be nice). I would settle for a kick.
The rules of soccer at the four-year-old level can be boiled down to “follow the ball and kick it”. The coaches do try to explain out of bounds and lining up when someone scores. But none of that is internalized and the kids have to be positioned by hand. Coach Krista has Daniel stand as a forward on the right side. The ball is put into play in the center of the field and the game is underway.
Daniel’s team, the Blaze, has a winning record. While this is mostly due to the two kids on his team who actually do follow the ball and kick it on a regular basis, it is a total team effort. In fact, there is so much teamwork on the field, if one team doesn’t kick the ball in, the other team will often help out and score on their own goal. I try to keep score, but in the end it doesn’t matter. For me, the Soccer Dad, I just want to see Daniel kick the ball.
This can be especially frustrating. The soccer ball on the field is competing with a lot of other things for the attention of the players. Airplane contrails are a popular distraction. So are cars that drive by. Some kids leave the field, crying, or kneel down and sulk in the grass. The ball occasionally bounces off of them like the bells in a pinball machine. Daniel isn’t a sulker and he doesn’t leave the field. He follows inside the cloud of shoes and shirts that trail the ball around the field. But I get the idea he’s not really sure why he’s doing this. The ball comes to rest – miraculously – about four inches from Daniel’s right shoe.
“Kick the ball!” I shout.
“Airplane!” Daniel shouts back.
The moment is lost. One of the kids not following the contrail kicks the ball away.
I lose track of the score somewhere around halftime. I think Daniel’s team is winning by about eight goals. I brought a bottle of water. I think this is one of his favorite aspects of being a soccer player. At home, he gets water in a boring old cup. Here, he gets to drink directly from a bottle. It even has a special cap.
Daniel gets a couple of more opportunities to potentially kick the ball. But instead he is falling down a lot. One of the kids who kicks the ball fell down and Daniel thinks that is part of the game.
“Kick the ball!” I shout.
Daniel falls down. The ball continues past him.
The game is almost over. The season is almost over. I have been calling to Daniel for the last several minutes to get up and kick the ball and finally it seems to be sinking in. I see Daniel looking around. The ball is sitting alone and still in the center of the field. Daniel runs over and gives it a mighty kick…
… which surprises everyone as it was the other team’s turn to start after a goal had been scored. Coach Krista hadn’t even finished arranging the kids in their positions again. Oh well. No one seems to mind too much. Both teams start chasing the ball again.