The coach’s shrill whistle blew and a handful of kids ran to the middle of the field, little arms and legs pumping. A few hung back along the sidelines, including my normally active, spirited daughter Madeline. She started slowly inching her way back to the bleachers where I sat with my husband. When the coach started barking directions at the pint-sized players, Madeline turned and ran to us. After some encouragement (and walking her out onto the field) Madeline joined her team reluctantly. I wish I could say after a couple of soccer practices things got better, but they didn’t. In fact, our first foray into organized sports actually got worse.
Even though I’m no quitter, that’s exactly what we did. We quit the team.
Like many three-year-olds, Madeline had lots of energy. When her baby brother arrived, it meant a lot more time at home than she was used to. That’s when my husband and I came up with the idea of enrolling her in a soccer program. I found one nearby and friends gave it a thumbs up. We turned in our paperwork and started shopping. Tiny soccer ball. Check. Shin guards. Check. Soccer socks. Check. We were ready! Madeline eagerly tried on her new gear and ran around the house. This was going to be great!
You can imagine our surprise when the first practice did NOT turn out to be great.
There seemed to be a lot of yelling and whistle blowing especially for a group of three-year-olds. We didn’t sign her up to get ready for the World Cup. We wanted her to run off that toddler energy and perhaps start to learn some of the important lessons my husband and I learned from participating in sports. Madeline just wasn’t responding (read: not participating). She wasn’t alone. Of course, a few kids did seem engaged, including the kid who was doing soccer drills with his dad before the practice started. I started to get an uneasy feeling about the whole thing.
My husband and I agreed we should return the next week. First day jitters, right? Madeline loved her Little Gym and Kindermusik classes so we were still optimistic. But this is the part where it got worse. The yelling and whistle blowing from the coach continued. That just seemed to shut Madeline down even more. I ran on the field and joined the practice, hopefully to inspire her to do the same. No such luck. The coach concentrated on the few kids who were taking part in the practice leaving Madeline and the other stragglers to hang back. One assistant did try to coax Madeline, but the coach quickly called the assistant to help with a drill. Let’s just say it was a long hour. When practice wrapped up, I asked the coach if there was a session with younger kids. Maybe Madeline would be with kids more at her level? I got a surprisingly curt response in return. Apparently, all the kids were the same age. Okaaayyy. That uneasy feeling in my stomach started to get worse. As we gathered our things to leave, my husband announced, “We’re not coming back next week.” I replied “Maybe just one more practice? Three times a charm?” But in my heart I knew it was time to walk away. This just didn’t feel right for Madeline or for us. I smiled at the other family sitting on the bleachers and said goodbye. The bleachers where Madeline and their child spent the whole practice.
Looking back, I still think we made the right decision to quit the team.
I only regret not watching a practice BEFORE we signed on and talking about how the children are coached. This fall we decided Madeline might be ready to try soccer again. She was a year older and we were armed with more information about what to look for in a sports program. I found one that let us try a soccer practice for free. It was like night and day! First, there was no yelling and whistle blowing. In fact, there was no whistle at all! The coach was silly and made all the kids giggle. The “drills” were fun games of make believe with aliens, secret castles and more. Madeline and the other kids were having a blast and learning how to play soccer!
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
My heart swelled when the coach taught the kids a new word that day. Respect. Respect for each other and respect for their coach. This is EXACTLY what we were looking for. We’ve been going to practices for a few weeks now. Madeline and her teammates are all participating, having fun and cheering each other on. She’s got a surprisingly strong kick for a little kid! Madeline has even pronounced herself a “soccer girl!” I have her awesome coach and the perfect soccer program (in our eyes) to thank. It took quitting a team to find a winning experience for our soccer girl.