The sporting life

Note: This column appears in the 10/13 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/14 issue of the Peoria Times

Our daughter, who just turned 2, had her first soccer practice last Saturday.
You may be wondering, as I was—how does a 2-year old play soccer? Well, it’s complicated. For a young girl like our daughter, who is not that much bigger than the required soccer ball, there are obstacles, the least of which is the size ratio of foot-to-ball.

We had signed her up through the City of Peoria’s website for this Toddler Tots six-week soccer practice thingee. As parents, it was strangely exhilarating to say things like, “Sorry, can’t go. Our daughter has soccer practice.” The whole situation enabled me to excitedly forecast a future when I am escorting her to more advanced sporting events of which she is a participant, and I can actively complain about the coaching and/or officiating and openly lobby for her All-Stardom.

In that respect, we’re off to a rough start. The practice began with positive encouragement from the coach for all the kids to begin stretching by holding your arms out like this and twirling them around! Simple enough, it would seem. But something about these encouraging instructions caused our daughter to break down, wail loudly, and then cling to me, the parent chosen to assist her in this practice so that my wife could patrol the sidelines with the Flip video. Up until that very moment—literally the first moment of the whole thing—all the kids seemed happy and excited. But our daughter’s wailing set off the familiar domino effect, with other young ones following suit. Sorry, coach!

Not helping matters was the fact that it was like 105-degrees out and very humid. Only in Arizona can the first October morning of fall feel like the Peruvian rainforest. (By the way, is it me or have the last two summers been very humid? I was promised dry heat. What gives, God?) After five minutes her face was flush red and my wife was running over with a water bottle like our daughter was a boxer in the corner of the ring, while lamenting that one of us had neglected to put sun block on her. Sports!

The practice proceeded as such, with me holding her hand as we attempted to execute simple soccer drills. Many times she opted to fall to the ground in a heap of crying despair, leaving me in that compromised state of having to choose between tough-love parent or coddler. I straddled the line for a bit, but by the end I was simply holding her while dribbling the ball myself and knocking other kids out of the way so I could she could score.

She did have fleeting and encouraging moments—mostly, for some reason, when my wife briefly took over—of participation whereby she exhibited a skill level on par with any popular one-named Brazilian. I think she’ll do better as the weeks go on, and both the weather and immense pressure of living up to the glory and tradition of Toddler Tots soccer cool off.

My wife later described the practice to her mom, which prompted my mother-in-law to ask what color the uniforms are, as if this is a traveling team sponsored by Best Buy that challenges the best 2-year olds from in and out of state. The contrast of that question to the reality of the day was awesome.

Maybe she will wear a uniform one day. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Right now, I am a soccer dad with the loudest kid on the team, and it feels pretty good.