I have a 6 year old daughter that has loved playing U6 soccer in NEYSC for 4 seasons now. When she started she was very shy, but playing amongst girls her age has changed her. She has come out of her shell, more out going, loves soccer, and loves being amongst friends and meeting new people. It’s changed me as well, especially this season, when I was asked to help from the bench.
My experience with any children, let alone 4, 5 and 6 year old girls is entirely limited to my own daughter. Sure, I’ve been to preschool events, sat in on a few play dates, but never have I had to interact solely and directly with little ladies. This changed in March 2014, when I began helping out on the bench for the NEYSC. I have no experience in soccer, so I am not fit to coach anyone, but why should that stop me from helping keep 4 girls focused on the game, while their teammates are on the field? How hard could it be?
This was when I discovered the huge difference between temperaments, ability to follow directions, and general sportsmanship of children. Just because you are supposed to act a certain way, does not mean it translates well to the uninitiated. Explaining the fundamentals of soccer is one thing, trying to instill a sense of team or the importance of being your best is another. I would argue that learning to play fair and fun is just as important as learning scissor kicks and pullbacks. Since I know nothing of the latter, I feel obligated to help contribute to intangibles.
“I hate the other team!”
With that statement, the stage, rather field, was set. I was not prepared. Surely explaining the importance of sportsmanship would define what could and could not be said by these cute, unassuming little girls. Negotiating, talking, explaining that they would not like being yelled at would certainly frame why they can’t talk this way. After all, what do they know of hating or trash talking? A lot, it turns out.
In a short 2 months I learned the frustration our school teachers must face every day. It feels impossible to convey the importance and impact of being kind in the few hours we are given every week. I have tried to combat the negativity, the lust for winning, the ideal that has already been shaped in the minds of these girls. We are all learning, trying to have fun, and experiencing for the first time what it means to contribute. I know that we will win. I know that we will lose.
It hasn’t got any easier, nor has it gotten any better. I realize these girls don’t mean the hateful things they say and they most definitely cannot grasp how it makes others feel. So, on a personal level I try to learn patience and understanding. These girls were not born with the idea that just because you are on opposing teams, you must wish hurt upon each other. I heard a 6 year old girl literally yell out, calling for blood. These statements just make me want to hug them.
I love keeping score and the concept of a winner and a loser. However, as mentioned earlier, I’ve changed. This ideal of competition only works as a teaching element when the girls have a grasp on sportsmanship. Otherwise this becomes a tool for gloating, yelling, and teasing.
Like everything else, it should start at home. Fathers, know that your daughters are listening to you while you scream at your TV, watching your favorite sports team lose. Mothers, realize that your indifference to a sport or team is also impacting their definition of team. Start teaching what sportsmanship means at a young age, because 3, 4, and 5 is not too young. Building the foundation to a good sport behavior is giving your child the ability to have fun, while being competitive, and understand the responsibility they have to their team.
I’ll continue to focus on understanding that we all come from different backgrounds. I shall suppress my urge to scold and instead praise the good and correct the hurtful words. I will smile while tying cleats and adjusting shin guards. I’ll do my best to give each my undivided attention, in hopes that they will do the same...eventually.
See you on the fields moms, dads, grandparents, and friends.