The Mighty Mighty Fireballs
This fall we signed our 3-year-old daughter up for soccer, her first organized team sport. Some friends put together Team Fireballs to play in the 3s and 4s co-ed league, and we all thought it was a grand idea to have our kids play together. “This is going to be SO MUCH FUN,” we assured our children. “They are going to LOVE this,” we told each other.
Two dads dutifully volunteered to coach the team, a brave undertaking considering many of its members had never touched a soccer ball before–if they had, it was with their hands which are not allowed in the game of soccer. That was Lesson 1, and we were starting from the very beginning.
I had big expectations for the Fireballs, but they were certainly tempered when I showed up to the field just before the start of the first game. The coach’s daughter had already completely removed her uniform; two girls were fighting over a hair bow; three children refused to set foot on the field, and only a handful actually made it to kickoff. My Fireball made a few kicks but burst into tears every time the other team got the ball. Another Fireball, whose father played collegiate soccer, cried the entire game. The other team scored their first of nine goals moments after the whistle blew. Our team just looked emotionally distraught, disinterested, traumatized, or just plain confused by the whole soccer experience.
In their defense, the Fireballs had three things working against them this season:
- Our teammates were mostly 3-year-olds and the other teams were mostly 4-year-olds about to turn 5. BIG difference. Our opponents were clearly more physically dominate and emotionally stable.
- Some games were played on a big field right by one of the very best playgrounds in town. The lure of the slide was a constant distraction to our team and certainly didn’t set us up for success. It was like having AA in a bar or Weight Watchers by a Waffle House. Each week we lost a handful of key players who simply weren’t strong enough to resist the temptation.
- Games took place at 2:30pm on Sunday afternoons. Smack-dab in the middle of nap time for members of our young crew. Clear disadvantage.
Over the course of each game, my Fireball displayed the entire spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes she was all in, happily chasing the ball and defending the goal (our team was mostly on defense).
Other times she was crying on the sidelines, moping in the middle of the field, or bolting towards the playground.
In a single game, we had to utilize every tool in our parenting toolbox: We bribed*, threatened, praised, pep-talked, punished, manhandled, encouraged, and incentivized in an effort to get her to just keep it together out there. I had no idea that a simple Sunday soccer would require so much parenting. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the time there were at least as many parents on the field as players, each of us whispering some sort of something to our children.
The first few games were just emotional games of dress-up for the Fireballs. Lots of tears were shed and not a single goal was scored. But boy did they look cute in those uniforms.
Where our team consistently shined was during the pregame cheer and during post-game snacks.
The next couple games got rained out, and I think all the parents were relieved. Fortunately the rain-outs set the reset button for our team and from there the season seemed to take a turn.
The Fireballs scored one goal during one game this season, but unfortunately we were still six goals short to pull-off the win that day. But BUT the final game was our very best. Most Fireballs played, many made contact with the ball, no one cried, and no goals were scored…by either team!
We tied that last game zero-zero , but to us, that was a HUGE victory. I’m pretty sure the kids even had a little fun out there too.
And as is custom with this generation, every single “player” got a trophy at the end of the season. And a cupcake.*
The Fireballs will be back next year–and next year we will be the giant, emotionally stable 4-year-olds. Watch out.