Positive role models keep the game fun

By David Bayer

We didn’t experience the “terrible twos” with our daughter Emma. No, she saved exerting her independence for her “threes” and “fours.” The days of performing on command were over. A new strong-minded (to put it PC) child emerged. It was impossible to predict when she would or would not decide to participate in activities. And when I say “would not,” I don’t mean a polite “no thank you,” I mean a vehement “NOOOO!!!!” So, when the time for her first soccer league sign-ups neared, we were very hesitant. We didn’t want to shell out the registration fee if she was going to pitch (no pun intended) a fit when it came time to play. 

Fortunately, the Atlanta Beat held a four-day soccer camp at the end of their season that we were able to attend. Emma had a great time passing the ball with Monica Ocampo, dribbling with Manya Makoski, scoring goals on Rebecca Nolin, and exercising with McCall Zerboni. Lori Chalupny had the biggest challenge – getting Emma to kick with the inside of her foot, rather than the outside. The players connected very well with the campers…a great combo of learning and laughter.

The positive role-modeling seemed to help. In our backyard at home, we kicked the ball around. “We” was me and “McCall Becks,” as Emma wanted to be known…a hybrid of her two favorite players. We saw a marked improvement in her skill level…well, as skilled as a four-year-old can be. When we asked friends about experiences with their children at the same age in soccer leagues, the words “swarm” and “herd” were mentioned. We were told of large groups of kids all moving wherever the ball happened to be. But that withstanding, we decided to take the plunge. We went to the local YMCA, filled out the paperwork, and Emma became an official U5. Saturday mornings would consist of a half hour of instruction and then two 15-minute games. The emphasis was to be on FUN.

I’m originally from Philadelphia, and what you’ve heard about Philly fans is true. They can be vicious. “Fun” only comes into play when our teams are winning, and we can berate the opposition. “Fun” is booing the Easter Bunny and throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. Though, I can’t say I was ever that bad. I’d describe myself as “passionate.” And since moving to Georgia, I’ve mellowed somewhat. I was fully prepared for Em’s games to be simply…fun.

When the first Saturday rolled around, Emma was seemingly ready to play. The only stumbling block was getting her used to the shin guards. Her squad (eight other girls) was known as “Team Germany.” We soon found out that other parents must have had our same issues. Sidney, Maggie, Kate and the twins (Chloe & Amelia) wanted nothing to do with soccer. Frustrated parents resorted to a bit of bullying and bribes of Chick-fil-A visits to get their girls on the field. Luckily, Emma immediately connected with a girl who had come to play – Lillie. The two of them, and the coach’s sister Angeli, hit the ground running.

With their teammates not real anxious to get involved, the “herd” thinned out. The three of them pretty much dominated the game, although “passing” was a foreign term. In keeping with the “fun” theme, substitutions were numerous and scores weren’t kept. Fun is what Emma had playing, and fun is what my wife and I had watching her. Our first day of organized soccer was a success! We gathered up our things to leave … and then the coach stopped us. She told us that parents from the other team had complained to her that Emma, Lillie and Angeli must not really belong in U5 because they are too tall and too good. This was the first game!!! What happened to fun?!?! Where were these people from, Philadelphia?! Things settled down in the following weeks. Fun prevailed. Winning or losing wasn’t a factor. Emma didn’t score any goals and didn’t stop many when she was in goal, but she had joined Our Game not only in spirit, but also in practice.

Emma with Atlanta Beat midfielder Rebecca Nolin