My almost nine-year old daughter is in her fifth year of playing soccer. She loves everything about it: the activity, the friends, the snacks. She will tell you, without reservation and at length, how dearly she loves the game.
Last year, she scored her first goal. Ever.
This year, five games in, she has yet to score. She’s in good company though; her entire team has been scoreless so far this season.
I’d like to say I’ve handled the challenging 10-0 style losses with grace. I’d love to say that. Unfortunately, the truth is I’m the worst sport out there - the typical crazy sports parent on the sidelines screaming idiotic, unhelpful phrases:
Get to the ball!
C’mon, follow the ball!
You can do it!
All the while, my girl and her friends gamely run back and forth on a ginormous field in the mid-day sun, doing their best to keep a bunch of tiny Mia Hamms at bay. In turn, they each get tired; they fall down, they get up, they keep going.
Meanwhile I’m sweating it out on the sidelines, wondering what I’ve done wrong – how I must certainly be damaging my child by allowing her to be this bad at something. Why am I continuing to let her experience losing every single week?
After each game, the team runs through our parent “tunnel” of cheers; I take in each of the girls’ flushed faces as they fly by and always they are glowing, smiling ear to ear.
They don’t seem to care that they’ve lost. That not a single goal was scored.
They are radiant. They look like girls that have accomplished something.
And I leave every game confused, truly missing the point of all the exercise, and even more importantly, the greater exercise.
It wasn’t until today that I got it, really - thanks to our wise friend Rachel who had been at my daughter’s last game and wrote her a lovely letter all about it. Rachel captured in one letter, after a single game, what I’ve been missing all along:
“…At the end of the game I was nervous because you guys didn’t score and the other team had. But then you all ran through the tunnel and your whole team was smiling and laughing. And it made me so happy because I knew that your team was the right place for you to be. I’m going to tell you something you already know: soccer isn’t about scoring points and winning games (even though those things are cool and feel great), it’s about running around with your friends, it’s about learning how to be better every game and it’s about smiling at the end of a game because you know you have tried so hard. You won’t remember if you won all your games or not, but you will remember having fun, you will remember the great friends you had and you will remember that your amazing family (and friends like me) were always there to cheer you on.”
And now, thanks to Rachel, I can go to next week’s game knowing that my girl – and her entire team – have already won.