This post popped into my head when I was driving back from Fredericksburg last weekend, or was it Charlottesville the week before, maybe it was Annandale the week before that? As a die hard soccer mom, I have put several hundred miles on my soccer mom van to and from infinite amounts of soccer games (and practices and tournaments). I was watching these freshman boys the other day and smiling inside with not a doubt in my mind as to why I do all of this shlepping. I love watching these boys on the field, improving their soccer skills and growing together as a team. I love listening to 3-4 of them in the back of my van (smell aside, man do those shin guards STINK) laughing and joking and blasting their music through the Toyota's sound system. And, it is so much fun to be at the adult table at Chic Filet or Steak and Shake (clearly I was not consulted on restaurant choices) after a game and hearing the craziness coming from the boys on the other side of the room.
This team was formed when these boys began sixth grade, but many of them had been playing together since they were little dudes in second or third grade. There have been kids who have left the team and each season a couple of new players join, but as a whole the team is a strong and unified bunch. There are two coaches who command respect (sometimes fear after a poorly played match) and discipline, but who also play with them harder than any adults that I have ever seen. The boys admire the coaches as well as have fun and joke with them. I am grateful to be part of a team that works so nicely together: the players, the coaches and the parents. We have had our growing pains, but have settled into a nice rhythm where the team is thriving.
What is it about being on a sports team that is so special? For one, it is keeps kids busy, out of trouble and active. Most educators and professionals espouse the value of sports for exactly those reasons. I have seen with my clients (and my own kids) that having practice on a regular basis keeps them more diligent and consistent with their schoolwork. Just last week a teenage client was telling me that when she doesn’t have practice she is more apt to waste away the afternoon by napping or watching tv and not start her homework until later in the evening. She said when she has practice it forces her to focus on her homework and get it done in a timely manner.
Another valuable part to being on a team is that kids learn to work together. Many students complain about group projects that they have in school. They find them annoying and difficult to orchestrate; who does which task, this one is slacking, it’s not fair that I do all the work. Input a team sport. The kids need to work together to achieve the goal (and literally a GOAL). They work at passing the ball, sharing the play and communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Players have to think ahead, strategize and be synchronized with their fellow team mate to anticipate the next move. There is little complaining about this kind of "group project" even though it hones in on the same skills as those projects that are assigned in school.
There seems to be little drama with these teenage boys. They are boys. They act differently than adolescent girls. They grab a ball and play. They rarely pay attention to how they look, how they smell or how their hair falls when on the soccer field. I have noted that some of the more quiet boys hang on the fringes of the clowning around antics, but overall the boys appear to act as a unit both on the field and off.
I believe that the bonding experience that the team provides for these boys (or any boys for that matter) is invaluable. They don’t all go to school together, yet they are together at least four times a week. There is a consistency to their gathering that is very healthy. The therapist in me isn’t pretending that the boys are sharing their deepest emotions with one another, or even letting a teammate know if they are struggling in some way, but the fact that they have these bonds and know that their teammate has their back should be reassuring to them whether they would recognize it or not.
As the team continues to develop and mature together both as players and young men, my hope is that they continue to learn, appreciate one another and most importantly, HAVE FUN.