I was out of town all weekend so my blogging took a back seat. I drove up to Flagstaff so my daughter could play in a soccer tournament. I LOVE the Flagstaff area because there are actual trees, mountains, wildlife, and did I mention the trees? Pine trees even! It was also about 20-25 degrees cooler (Phoenix is at sea level and Flagstaff is about 8,000 ft above). So I enjoyed just being out of the heat of the valley, which was up around 100 when we returned yesterday.
This is Meghan’s first season of competitive soccer and the team is new to one another as well. They lost all of their games, so we were able to drive back early. I really felt bad for them because I know how hard it is to lose. I was a horribly bad loser when I was a kid (I played 14 years fast pitch softball, starting at 5 years old–no t-ball for me–plus a smattering of other sports including soccer). I think I hated losing because I didn’t experience it very often. See I played on a church team (which was a highly competitive league–was pretty common in the South in the 1970’s) and most of the players were older than me (the twins, my sisters, who were two years older than me were also on the team). So we won, a lot. I never rubbed winning in anyone’s face though. It’s easier to be magnanimous when you’re the winner. The much harder lesson is to learn how to handle losing.
With team sports, handling losing is even harder because there is so much you can’t control. My daughter is one of the best players and highest scorers and I don’t mean that to brag. It is simply fact. Unfortunately, all teams have their strengths and weaknesses and no matter how hard your star players play, if the rest of the team doesn’t rise to a certain level of competence it simply won’t matter. Also, you don’t get to choose your opponents, the refs, the field conditions, etc. This tournament was the perfect example of these things. For instance, the second game was against a group of 8 year old girls who had been playing together for four years–meaning they had been playing soccer together for half their little lives. And boy did it show. Their coach sat for the entire first half and just let his girls run the show and they were absolutely brilliant. They played their positions, they communicated really well, they had set plays….they showed our girls what soccer is supposed to be. But it was too hard for our girls to see that since they were the ones actually on the field and getting spanked. So the lessons to learn from that game will have to come later when our girls are over their hurt feelings. We found out later that that team should not even have been in our bracket. Oh well, it is what it is.
The other thing we couldn’t control are the refs. They just weren’t calling fouls. The other teams were very physically aggressive and there were quite a few injuries. I expected elbows in the face, kicking ankles and knees, intentional tripping etc because they’re young and don’t have a lot of self control. However, I didn’t expect the refs to completely ignore it. If it had been a high school aged game there would have been a lot of cards given out. But for the most part, they just let them do whatever they wanted. This is important to my daughter because she is very small for a 9 year old. My son, who is only two, already weighs more than half of what my daughter does and is already over half her height. So she gets pushed around a lot and there’s not much she can do about. It’s normally not a problem because she is very, very fast and can run circles around most girls. However, if they’re stiff-arming her, pushing her down, hitting her in the face and otherwise fouling her, speed doesn’t really matter. That’s why the refs paying attention to such things is so important. The game is supposed to be about skill, teamwork and tactics and not who is the most violent. In the very first game she got kicked in the ankle and we spent the rest of the tournament trying to wrap it, numb it, ice it….anything to make her more comfortable and allow her to continue playing. It wasn’t bad enough for her to sit out but it definitely affected her play.
The girls also had to deal with fields that were very different than what they are used to. Here in the valley grass is kept very short and the dry soil causes the ball to move much faster. So the girls don’t have to kick as hard and control is much more important than other techniques. This tournament was played in the outfield of baseball fields where the grass was about 2-3 inches longer than we are used to. This slowed the ball down and threw off their timing. Plus they had to kick much, much harder to make passes and score goals. It would be like a hard court tennis player having to switch to playing on a grass court all of a sudden. The ball moves at a different pace, takes different bounces and rotation, foot placement is harder (your feet stick and catch in grass instead of sliding on hard packed dirt) and it takes a great deal more energy to run in high grass. To top it all off, they had to deal with the fact that they were playing in an area with a lot less oxygen–7,000 feet higher elevation. Basically it was all really tough on them. Could they have played better, absolutely. But again, it is what it is.
Anyway, my daughter handled it very well and I was proud of her. She didn’t cry until late last night and then what set her off was a combination of exhaustion and worry about a math quiz at school for which she felt unprepared. Meghan’s a little tiger though and I have no doubt she will continue to do her best. She has the opportunity to learn how to lose gracefully and some humility much earlier in life and, hopefully, much easier than I did. I was an adult before I learned these lessons and it wasn’t pretty. I am very proud of her and I really hope she knows it. Just in case, I think I will tell her again tonight.