Soccer. It’s in Our Blood.

The face of a natural-born goal poacher (circa 1987)

The face of a natural-born goal poacher (circa 1987)

I didn’t play youth soccer for long, but I made a huge impact. I played just one season when I was five or six, but my unique style and flair is still widely talked about. By my mom, mostly, but still, talked about.

At that young age, I wasn’t gifted with foot speed or skill or even the slightest morsel of aggressiveness, but I had a knack for positioning. Maybe knack isn’t the right word. It was something more. You see, when you are slower than all the other kids, but you still try (which I’ve come to learn is a rare combination) AND your main goal is to avoid physical contact AND you don’t want anyone to know that is your main goal, it all adds up to one thing: A natural-born goal poacher.

I honestly don’t remember much about my soccer days, but I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I chugged along on the pitch, always just far enough behind the scrum where the ball was located to avoid any unwanted action. However, as any soccer aficionado knows, while great scorers all have different styles, they share one thing in common. A talent for ending up in the right place at the right time.

Yes, when that ball ricocheted around and somehow escaped the confines of the small clump where all the other players remained huddled, there I was. Ready to pounce. Like a cobra on an unsuspecting rodent. I scored my share of goals by remaining outside the fray. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Another lesson. Don’t let six-year-olds name their soccer team. While I might not remember much about my soccer career, I do distinctly remember the first suggestion when the coach asked what we should call our team was The Care Bears. That was rightfully nixed, but we landed on the Arrows. In retrospect, we maybe should’ve gone with Care Bears.

And one last lesson. If you’re playing soccer, make sure the ball is all the way across the goal line before you stop kicking it. I learned this the hard way. I remember kicking the ball toward the open net, presumably after one of my cobra-like sneak attacks, and it came to rest directly on the chalk line at the mouth of the goal. I was standing right there, but not wanting to overdo it, I let the ball be. And, long story short, that was one more goal that should have been added to my career scoring total. I will never forget it.

I also don’t think I’ll ever forget my two sons’ first soccer experiences. Mainly because I’m writing about it right now and posting it on the internet. And also because there’s something about seeing the world of youth sports from the other side—the parent side—that is just so confounding.

When I was a kid, these games seemed so big to me. Not just soccer, which I only played briefly, but baseball and basketball and tennis. I remember feeling like every game was a big deal. Like these contests mattered. Perhaps it’s just my personality. Admittedly, I tend to put more weight on events than they objectively deserve. Even to this day. But, seeing how chaotic and disorganized and lawless these soccer games are doesn’t match my childhood memories. Heck, in my seven-year-old’s first game, one of his teammates dribbled the ball a good fifty yards beyond the playing field to score a goal in a distant net. Another player in the five-year-old’s game picked up the ball and tried to run for a touchdown. And in both games, no one paid attention to the boundary lines or pretty much any other rules of soccer.

It was a far cry from what I remembered from my childhood perspective. To me, every game felt like the World Cup or World Series or NBA Finals or Wimbledon. Both my sons complained of apprehension before their first games. And because I knew what the games would probably be like, I re-assured them that there was nothing to worry about. Maybe I was right, but maybe not. Perhaps they saw it differently. I mean, for all I know, that soccer game where I let the ball come to rest on the goal line probably featured seven hundred hand ball violations and ten to twelve interruptions to watch airplanes passing overhead.

During their first games, my five-year-old hustled around the field under the hot sun and actually got a kick or two in. He was often behind the pack, like I was, but he gave it his all. Meanwhile, my seven-year-old took a page from my ball-avoidance handbook and added his own unique twist. He lined up as a defender (but NOT THE GOALIE) most of the game, standing a few paces from his goal and relying on his aggressive teammates to keep the ball away from his end of the field.

No matter how it looked to me, though, it almost certainly looked different to them. For me, it was inconsequential and small. For them, it was everything. At least for those thirty minutes before the final horn sounded and we headed home to argue over the television and bedtime.

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