Bend It Like Roundbottom

Fun fact:  soccer games for the 3 to 6-year-old league are a lot closer to rugby than European football.  It’s  a swirling mass of little bodies in a desperate contest to take the ball from everyone in the throng, whether they be on the same team or not.

Except for my kid.  He’s usually on the other side of the field, trying to chat it up with any females who happen to be sitting on the sidelines, regardless of age.  Y’know, when he’s NOT crouching and hopping like a frog.

At first, I viewed signing Roundbottom up for soccer as a good way to provide him with some exercise and the chance to socialize with other kids.  He’s usually home alone all day with Mommy or Grammy and the only real interaction he gets is with his older brother.  This is the same older brother who more often than not tends to ignore him completely  until such point as little bro makes the mistake of trying to steal away with items that are clearly marked “property of Footloose”.

Better yet, it was also a chance to spend more quality bonding time with Uncle Studly,  who actually knows and enjoys the various pass-times known as “sports”.  I generally view them as simply “torture with uniforms”.  Uncle Studly has played every sport under the sun, and has a special love for soccer, which he excelled at in college.  So taking that all into account, we signed Roundbottom up for this exciting new adventure.  Just one small problem:

He’s three, and he’s Roundbottom.

I don’t know what made me think that he would actually engage in something as structured and focus-demanding as soccer.  I don’t know what made me think that he would listen to a coach when I can’t even get him to listen to me (though I must admit, it does make me feel a little better knowing that I’m not the only authority figure he chooses to ignore).  He seemed excited when we told him he was going to play, though I probably should have taken his response at the announcement as an indicator that his intentions and ours didn’t exactly line up.  You see, when we told him he would be playing soccer, he had only one response:

“I talk to girls?”

Yeah.  He’s three, and already more girl crazy than I can ever remember being.

So here, two weeks into the season, are the biggest takeaways from Roundbottom’s burgeoning soccer career:

  1. He doesn’t quite grasp the concept that soccer is a hands-free game, both in regards to the ball and the other players he keeps trying to hug in the middle of playing.
  2. Much like Gimli the Dwarf in “The Lord of the Rings”, his small and stocky stature make him a dangerous sprinter, lethal over short distances.  Of course, after such strenuous exertion, a rest is in order.  This usually takes place wherever he decides to collapse on the field.  No worries.  The other kids can play around him.
  3. He knows no allegiance but his own.  Just because someone happens to be wearing the same shirt as him, doesn’t mean he feels any sense of loyalty to them.  At first I tried to tell myself that he kept following the opposite team to the sideline in an effort to infiltrate, not defect.  Yeah, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  4. Goal nets are fun to stick your face in.
  5. Directions from myself, his uncle, and his coach are not actually instructions so much as suggestions.  Really, really stupid suggestions.
  6. Gatorade and snacks at the end of the game are 90% of the reason he shows up.
  7. Introducing himself to attractive soccer moms is the other 10%.
  8. He’ll only kick and chase after the ball if it will get his uncle and I to shut up.
  9. Tag is more fun than soccer.
  10. I’m usually more exhausted after a game than he is.

Trying to reign the child in during these games is a monumental task, one my brother and I in unison are just barely equipped for.  I have no doubt whatsoever that every other parent in this league knows my child’s name, simply due to the number of times we scream it during the course of a typical game.

Lord knows I try to take it in stride.  I’m constantly trying to remind myself that he’s only three, is playing on a team with kids who all appear to be nearly twice as old as him, and that he doesn’t come by focus and determination naturally.  I really couldn’t care less what he does to be honest, as long as he doesn’t tackle another kid to the ground or keep trying to throw a ball in from the sidelines while there’s play going on.  My brother, on the other hand, is a different story.

The first game, we actually reached a point where Uncle Studly was pacing, muttering something I couldn’t hear under his breath, and looking as if he’s just lost a $500.00 bet on the Super Bowl.   While I couldn’t care less about sports, they’ve been a huge part of my brother’s life since almost day one.  He had a sparkle in his eye when I told him Roundbottom was going to be playing,  looking forward to the opportunity to pass his knowledge on to the next generation.  So of course when his nephew decided plopping down on the field and picking grass was more exciting than going after the ball, he became a little discouraged.

“I just want him to have fun,” my brother told me, the emotion dripping in his voice.  Of course, therein lies the rub.  Not just for my brother, or me, but any sport parent – a child’s definition of fun is vastly different to an adult’s  Kids are just happy to be outside and rolling around in the grass at this age.  Sure kicking a ball is fun, but so is playing with the nifty new water thermos with the top that pops out when you push a button.  When you’re three, you’re not worried about winning, records, or trophies.  You just want to run around and do your thing, which if you’re my kid includes stopping everything to do an impromptu “Catboy” impersonation from “PJ Masks”.

Adults on the other hand, tend to see these games as an opportunity to instill certain virtues in their players – determination, focus, teamwork, a winning attitude.  Laudable goals to be sure, but not entirely realistic.  When you watch the kids ignoring everything around them, you feel an almost palpable dread creep up in your stomach.  “Oh my God,” you think as you watch the young whippersnapper score a goal in their own net, “my kid’s completely lost.  He/she’s not getting it.  They’re never going to make it to college!!”

As my brother and I have finally realized, it may be time to take a deep breath and dial down from that conclusion.  Watching him play the other day, I finally saw my brother crack a little half-smile, shake his head, and remark, “you know what?  We just need to let the boy do his thing.  He’s three.  He’ll pick it up eventually.”  That turned out to be most wise, as when left to his own devices, Catboy eventually decided to at least start chasing after the ball when it went by him.  Right there was 100% improvement on his first performance already.

So heed my words, sports fans.  Try not to let yourself get too upset during these early, tentative steps toward athletic glory.  Playing sports is like anything else, from learning to read to learning how to conduct yourself in polite society.  Time is the best teacher.  Let them do their thing, be patient, do your best to guide them, and they’ll catch on eventually.  In the meantime, no college scholarships are in jeopardy.  As with all things, it just takes time for them to develop their game.

Apparently not Roundbottom, though.  Based on what I’ve seen from his chatting up of the ladies, that boy has already developed more game than I’ve ever had……





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