By David Bayer
In February, the usual highlight for me is when pitchers and catchers report for baseball spring training. This year, I was more excited for midfielders and backs to report for YMCA soccer practice. After our successful initiation into soccer in the fall, my wife Carey and I signed our daughter Emma up
for the spring session. Emma was in U5 in the fall and even though she’s only 4 and a half years old, we entered her in U6. Now before you label me as one of those parents who try to push their child through a sport to be a star, I’ll have to stop you. Emma’s U5 coach is the one who suggested the move up. I also checked with two WPS players (thanks Kia & Sess) for their opinions. Neither of them thought there would be a big difference between U5 and U6.
We did find that there is one minor difference, U6 has a weekly practice. Practice?! (said in an Allen Iverson tone) We’re talkin’ practice?! For toddlers?! Yes, every Thursday night we’re off to an hour of practice. Fun is the main objective, but skills are taught and strategies have been introduced. The problem with talking about subjects like defensive plans is that the kids don’t even know what the word “defense” means. Offensive schemes were met with blank stares, and I could see the coach’s words flowing in one small ear and out the other. But when it was time to play island tag, their eyes lit up and laughter returned.
Saturday is game day … two 25-minute games. There are four teams in the league. Emma is now on Team Brazil. There was one major difference between the first game this season and last season…all of the girls actually wanted to play. There was no crying, no parent leg-clutching, no bribery needed to get the girls to participate. With the move up to U6, I guess my expectations were raised, and when the action on the field was much less than stellar, I found myself falling back into my Philly roots and getting a bit “testy.” I was more upset with the lack of concentration than the actual miscues. I quickly reeled myself in, with the help of Carey’s glares.
Week two was an interesting one. Brazil played Italy for the first time. A girl on Italy was doing a bit of pushing to get to the ball. All I can surmise is that Emma paid a bit too much attention to Carolyn Blank at the Beat games last season, because she pushed back, did some “trash-talking” and got yanked from the game. When I relayed the story to Manya Makoski, she said that being physical is never a bad thing. So, how do I strike a balance in Emma’s mind between playing like the pros and playing “nice”? Maybe that comes in U7.
An update – Some of you may recall my first article for Our Game in which I told the story of our family’s relationship with WPS star McCall Zerboni. Since then, McCall has moved on to the WNY Flash. Many people have asked me how Emma handled the change. At 4 years old, I don’t think she really comprehends it yet. And with grandparents in Ohio and Pennsylvania, she’s used to having loved ones at a distance. Carey and I have taken it harder, but texting, email, phone calls and knowing that she’s in a better situation for herself have helped. When Emma’s coach gave out the team shirts, Emma had first choice of numbers. She immediately blurted out, “seven”! Carey and I gave each other a puzzled look, because she had never shown any affinity to seven. A few days later, while looking at the WNY Flash website, I saw some preseason photos. Can you guess who had switched uniform numbers from two to seven??? Cue the Twilight Zone music.