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Losing with Grace

Historically, this is not Simon’s strong suit. I’ll give you exhibit A: Today we were playing Yahtzee together when I rolled a fiveĀ  6s. This good roll ensured my victory and came after at least three losing games in a row.

“You’re going to win,” Simon sulked. “I don’t want to play anymore.”

I understand where this is coming from. In the most literal sense, it comes directly from his Uncle Steve. (I blame you, big bro, I very much blame you! ) In a less finger-pointing sense, sore losing is the direct by-product of being intense and competitive. These traits have many upsides, but they don’t tend to produce the most gracious losers, especially not in children whose super-egos are still under development. Theoretically, he’ll outgrow this or at least learn to hide it better as he ages.

Today’s sulk resulted in a good, stern talking to, the likes of which Simon seldom gets and does not enjoy one bit. In fact, owing to Simon’s also being intense and competitive about having perfect behavior, he even cried a little.

I bring this up not because Simon’s behavior today was so awful but rather because his behavior for the last few Saturdays has been so completely out of character. Saturday is game day in Simon’s soccer league, and this go-round Simon drew the short straw when it came to team placement. Not to put too fine a point on it, but his team is awful. Not mediocre. Not fair. Not even bad. They are truly, jaw-droppingly, painfully, awful. As compared to every other team we have seen play or practice, they come up short in the following ways:

  1. They are small. I don’t know how all the short 8- and 9-year-olds ended up on one team, but they did.
  2. They are inexperienced. Many of these kids look to have little or no prior soccer experience.
  3. They lack natural ability. We’ve got kids on this team who cannot control where they kick the ball and/or who often miss the ball completely. I wish that were hyperbole.
  4. They are slow. Lots of these kids don’t appear to enjoy running very much.
  5. They won’t/can’t pass or space themselves on the field. This directly follows from #2 above, and it prevents the team from creating scoring opportunities. As does not being able to kick the ball . . .
  6. They won’t/can’t listen to the coach. Yup, the cherry on top of this sundae is that the team has multiple discipline problems, including one player Matt had a run-in with during a baseball game last summer. At the end of last week’s practice (we missed this week’s due to snow and ice), Coach Maddie was hoarse and clearly flustered.

I approached her to assess the situation.

“Are they going to lose every game this session?” I asked.

“They are,” she nodded sadly. “I’m trying to at least teach them how to defend, but they won’t listen to me. It’s really bad.”

“I’m sorry. I’m Simon’s mom, and I just wanted to get the lay of the land so I could prepare him. This will be hard for him.”

“You’re Simon’s mom? He’s my ace in the hole!”

“That’s not good!” I practically yelled in response. “He was seven in October and is probably your youngest player.”

“He’s playing up? Oh God, it’s worse than I thought.”

So that’s how bad they are. They lost their first game by a lot. With mercy rules, the score board never shows more than a 4-point differential, but the kids know the truth. They lost last week’s game 2-6 according to the scoreboard and 2-10 according the actual count to a perfectly average team. Others will beat them by 10+ goals after their coach institutes rules to make scoring harder. Many 6-7 teams could beat this group.

By all rights, Simon should be gutted by this. I would expect tears, a refusal to go out and play, mystery stomach aches on game day, and the like. But amazingly, he seems ok. It’s probably a help to him that one of the other good players on his team is a girl from his school. Mia is a natural on the field, is fast as lightning, and—as Simon likes to remind me every time her name is mentioned—won the Kindness Award for third grade last month.

It might also be a help that he knows he’s playing up and doesn’t feel like he has to shoulder the responsibility for the entire team. I know for sure it helped that Simon scored off a free kick last week, sending the ball up and over a line of defenders and placing it neatly in the upper-left corner of the goal, where it’s hard to defend. Our little cheering section roared, and Simon said he could hear us over the plexiglass wall.

Still, 10 weeks is a long time to do nothing but lose. And scoring opportunities aren’t going to come very often on a team where so few can control the ball or understand how to pass. Frankly, I’m not finding it easy myself. I understand that when teams are randomly assigned you are going to draw the short straw eventually. But did it have to happen the second he was bumped up? Did he need to be on team with behavior issues as well?

It’s a sad statement given how expensive indoor soccer is, but I’m pretty much counting down the days until he moves back to Louisville Soccer Alliance and joins a U-9 outdoor league. Those kids practice twice a week for an hour and a half and are all being groomed for competitive U-10 play. They’re going to pass the ball, I hope, and pay attention to their coach while they’re at it. We can’t draw the short straw twice in a row, can we?



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