For about a month now, Xander has been counting down until soccer started. He's never played before, but he fell in love with the game when a friend kicked a ball around with him on July 4. Sign-ups were supposed to be last week, but got rescheduled due to rain, so we waited an extra week. Finally, last night, the time came.
We got there and he kicked around the ball a bit with our friend (who coaches) and a boy he met there. Then they divided up the kids and did a few drills. When he actually plays, it will be with/against kids his own age, but for last night, there were kids aged 5-10 in his group. He is not quite 6, so he was definitely one of the youngest. Many of them had also played soccer before, and Xander has never played any organized sport. These factors combined meant that he was definitely not the most skilled player out there.
It was hot and muggy out, and he was playing hard. After about an hour, he ran over to where Lucas and I were sitting and watching him. His hair was wet with sweat and his cheeks were red. And his eyes were watering.
I asked if he was hurt and he shook his head no as some tears fell and he reached for his water bottle. He took a few gulps and Lucas asked him what was wrong. He shook his head again and said, "I just needed a drink." Lucas told him to get back out there, but we would need to talk about it later. He ran back out on the field and finished the drill.
For the last 30 minutes or so, the big group of 15-18ish kids just ran around, trying to kick the ball away from each other. Xander didn't get to kick it much, but he kept going. Hard. He ran and tried and didn't quit for a second.
As we drove home, he caught his breath and finished off his bottle of water. I asked if he had fun and he said yes and when could he go back.
Later in the evening, Lucas asked if he was frustrated while he was playing. He didn't answer. Lucas said, "You know, when I was little, Uncle Phillip (Lucas's older brother) and his friends were always better than me. It made me sort of frustrated because no matter how hard I tried, they were always better." Xander started crying again and said, "I felt that way too."
And my heart exploded. I felt bad for him, but also so very proud that he just took a few seconds to compose himself, then ran back out on that field and hustled. He tried as hard as he could and he still had fun.
I can't wait for the season to start. I think it's going to be great for him. He's used to being the oldest kid around here, and therefore he's the best at pretty much any activity we do. It will be good for him to be humbled a bit, and to learn that trying hard is still worth it, even if the end result is not what you expected. I can't wait to see him learn teamwork first-hand, without necessarily being the leader. I want to see him push through the hard stuff and keep going even when he thinks he can't.
And you know, he's pretty cute with sweaty hair and red cheeks too.