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Middle of the Pack

When is being strictly average totally exciting? When you are playing up, that’s when. For the last three weeks, Simon has been playing in the Mockingbird Valley U-10 soccer league. This division is open to boys and girls (but mostly boys it would seem) who were at least 8 and not yet 10 when the season began in mid-October. That means most of the kids Simon is playing with are 1 to 2 years older than he is, and a few are a month or two shy of being 3 years older. To put this into perspective, it means Simon is playing with and against mostly third and fourth graders.

The difference in the game is dramatic. The kids play on a full field, they field teams of 7, things like fouls and handballs are called, and an actual scoreboard reflects the actual score. It’s a faster, stronger, more coordinated game, and I catch myself finding it simultaneously easier and harder to watch than his previous division. Easier because it looks like real soccer; harder because my kid is out there and in position to have his feelings and his person harmed.

But that’s just me. Simon is having a blast on the full field with the better kids. His team won their first game and he even scored twice. They got clobbered by the U-10 equivalent of Man City or Arsenal the next week (seriously, I knew they were going to lose badly the second I saw the other team walk on the field), and this week’s game was tight until the fourth quarter, when Simon’s undermanned team got heavy legs and conceded to the team with bigger numbers.

Surprisingly, Simon has taken defeat well. I think he understands that this team is not his to carry and that he’s there to be a role player. Similarly surprisingly, most of the other boys have welcomed him as a teammate. From Alex, the good kid who always pats his back and says “good game” at the end, to the unhappy Number 11, who yelled “I hate you” and threw an elbow at the very first U-10 practice, Simon is treated as an equal. I’m not sure if the other boys think of him as a pet, mascot, or un-bratty younger brother, but the response has been heartening. Well, except for Sir Elbow.

Playing with older kids has taught us a lot more about Simon’s game. In the U-8s, Simon is a good dribbler, fast runner, and rock-solid defender. In fact, he was often the only kid who seemed interested in defending, and he could shut down an opposing team with little support. In the U-10s, Simon is a good dribbler, fast runner, and weak defender. He lacks the size–and possibly the gumption–to shut down a player who is 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier going full speed ahead. Hey, he’s not stupid!

But the speed is still evident, and his footwork is still solid. He needs to work on his one-touch control, but he can dribble around through other players. He’s also a natural play-maker, constantly raising his hand and voice to either call for a pass or tell someone to run ahead for a pass. The coaches tell me he plays smart and likes to jabber on the field. He jabbers less once off the field, as 40 minutes of running on the big field leaves him much more tired than we are used to seeing.

So here’s my prediction: Ten years hence, Simon will be a midfielder. One to two years hence, he’ll leave me in the dust any time we go out to run together. And I think the soccer love is here to stay.




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