Following the ball

It’s not about the paraphanalia…a ball and some worn out shoes…

Soccer has a hold on our family…my husband being English hasn’t helped.

It has been interesting to see that the game has taken my second son to a different place than where it took his older brother. Whereas the myopic older brother tended to only focus on whatever was directly in front of him to the exclusion of the periphery, his younger brother tends to care a lot about the larger environment. So where the older brother pursued soccer to the highest league levels that  his family’s stamina and finances could sustain, his younger brother has always had a more political/social approach. He has finally found a team that is less about affording middle class kids a sports opportunity but just as much about playing the game.  He has joined a team made up of French-speaking African kids,  some middle eastern kids, and a pinch of Hispanics. I am necessarily vague on the exact nationalities as he has only just got his feet wet with this team. These are kids who elect to get up on the first day of Spring Break to meet for 3 hours of “Pick-up” at 8:AM in the local Boys Club gym. They are kids who have shoveled the snow off the unused ice rink in the small city in which they live in order to play soccer on it. These are kids who arrive on foot to practice and don’t necessarily have rides to far away games. They don’t have expensive sweat suits or team sports bags.

Both sons really enjoyed playing soccer in England and France last summer when we visited their Grandmother in England. Yes, we had a soccer ball with us as we wended our way through the Louvre. And then out on the street, the boys would start kicking on any little patch of ground, often attracting other players out of the woodwork. The amazing thing was the lack of a language barrier. In Brighton, they had some sort of school group from Italy that they played with. Neither of my sons speaks Italian, but it didn’t seem to matter. One of the Italians spoke English and basically, if you know the rules of the game, you can play across a language barrier.

I would be hard pressed to say that either son’s approach is more or less serious about soccer. My older son cared a lot about attaining the highest level of play…he needed to be on teams where at least a few of the other players understood the game at the level he did and could play at that level with him. To this end, he succeeded by “making it” onto the competitive teams that he tried out for and then managing to establish himself on each one. He played on the most accomplished team in Albany 40 miles to the north of us. That team went to tournaments across the northeast, and most of the players went on to play college soccer. My second son, on the other hand, has had an uncomfortable relationship with the coaches and most of the teams he has played with. He has felt for a long time that he plays much better himself when he is involved in  a spontaneous game that is not “organized”. He hasn’t liked the petty politics on teams or the “yes sir” mentality of taking direction from coaches who may or may not have an international understanding of the game. There is still a tendency in the US to pattern some of the game strategy after that of American football. I know my family disdains the appellations “fullback” and “half back” as those are American football concepts, not native to the real “football” or “footie” as the second son calls it. As our family’s stamina for driving to Albany waned, my second son played on a more suburban less accomplished team…a sort of off-shoot of the high school team where he never really felt appreciated as both a homeschooler and an independent thinker in general. So when a fellow homeschooler introduced him to this more local team right in our backyard, he was delighted. Not only does the coach have an active appreciation for the players as individuals, but the players wouldn’t be there if it were not for their personal commitment to playing. You can sense this as they gather to practice in the little Boys Club gym. Local tournament tomorrow!

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