Sunday was the first day of Evanston's AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) season. If you were Around Town, you surely saw most of our fine city's parks filled with excited players, colorful uniforms, and enthusiastic volunteer coaches and referees.
I've always marveled at how, from the streets and sidewalks of Evanston, AYSO playing fields look like a slice of community bliss. And they can be. But for some people (including yours truly), getting a child to a soccer field is no easy task.
Take, for example, the exchange we had with our seven-year-old this afternoon before his game:
Do you have your shin-guards?
How about your socks?
"Check. But could you tie them, please?"
"Well, here's the top, but do you know where the bottoms are?"
We search the house for the soccer shorts. They finally turn up underneath said seven-year-old.
Wait...before you put those on, Buddy...are you wearing underwear?
"Why do I have to?"
Because everyone does. That's how it works.
"But my shorts are black. No one's gonna see."
Ah, yes, here we are, at the beginning of another AYSO soccer season.
I must admit, I'm thrilled that two of our kids are playing this year. There's something wonderful about them being part of a team, making new friends and watching their confidence grow week by week. I love hearing other parents call my child's name, cheering her on when she's approaching the goal, clapping for him when he gets up from a tumble.
I'm not thrilled about the herculean logistics involved in getting them dressed and on the field for practices and games each week, but I know I'm not alone. I frequently meet rolling eyes and knowing glances from other parents as we arrive at the fields. I recognize the I-never-thought-we'd-make-it-here look that reminds me we're all going through the same thing.
And then, the game itself. As coaches coach and parents preach from the sidelines, players' cheeks flush deeper and deeper from the running and sunning on a fall afternoon in Evanston.
No matter the age, the players often fumble awkwardly the first game of the season -- and yesterday was no exception. Arms flailed, fighting the urge to simply pick up the ball and launch it into the goal. Legs twisted over and under competitors' knees, trying to find the best angle to kick the ball free of the milieu. Mouths -- every one of them -- were open and panting, breathless in their inauguration of another opening day of soccer season.
From the sidelines, adults marveled, encouraged, gasped, compared and chuckled over the creative approaches players took toward moving a ball across grass. The variations in skill are never as pronounced as they are on opening day.
The thing I've noticed most, after six years in the AYSO organization, is how much I admire the kids for driving themselves down those fields, back and forth, trying to figure it all out. From the sidelines, it's easy for us to see where they should be going, what they should focus on, and how they should alter their path toward a more direct shot of their goal.
But, just as in life, we need to let them find that path themselves, allowing them to stumble many times along the way.