Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Get Stung in the Testicles
Sports can often be a weird exercise in futility: you practice and practice but never get to use your skills in the perfect situation (unlike learning how to knit or draw or play a musical instrument, where practice usually rewards you with a linear increase in skill and enjoyment) but once in a great while, the sporting gods shine their light on a lucky soul . . . and right now the light is shining on my son Ian . . . he plays on the middle school soccer team that I coach, and the team is comprised of 6-8th graders and this means there is a HUGE difference in sizes and development among the players-- Ian is on the small size for a sixth grader (78 pounds) and so when he's next to a large 8th grader, he looks like a midget-- the jersey goes down past his knees-- but he was the only sixth grader in attendance at last Friday's home game (I made him come to cheer on his team) and it was a close one, we were playing better soccer but the the other team (South Amboy) had a free kick specialist who bent it like Beckham used to bend it: he scored two forty-five yard curling spinless rocket shots and they also had a six foot tall Asian kid playing goalie who wasn't that coordinated but swatted down everything we shot at him; it was tied 2-2 in the second half and we just couldn't finish, so I threw Ian a bone and put him up top-- I figured it couldn't hurt and I could give him a few minutes of time as a reward for showing up (the rest of his sixth grade friends were playing Nerf war) and within moments, he got to use every soccer skill I've ever taught him, all in one play-- he ran through a ball forty yards out-- I'm a huge proponent of opening your hips and running through the goddamned ball, instead of stabbing at it-- and then he kept it glued to his body, juggling it on his chest, thighs and feet, then he sealed off a giant defender, faked a shot with his strong foot (he's lefty) and then cut it to his right and shot to the far post with his weak foot . . . it was, as my friend Roman described it, a David and Goliath moment . . . unforgettable and awesome . . . and, as if this wasn't enough, on Wednesday we had an away game against Woodrow Wilson, a middle school three times our size, and once again, we were playing much better soccer but the field was awful, the bumpiest I've seen, and we gave up a handball PK and an ugly counterattack goal and were down 2-1 in the second half . . . so I threw Ian in again, for luck, and two minutes later he snuck over to the far post and one of 8th graders zipped a ball across the box, from the left to right, and Ian-- a lefty-- took it off one bounce from ten yards out and slotted it in with his right foot . . . most kids will take a whack at that ball with their strong foot, and often whiff or knock it over the goal, but Ian kept his composure, used the proper foot, and scored another critical weak foot goal . . . this fired us up and our star player drilled one in from the eighteen moments later and that was enough to do it-- we won 3-2 . . . so good stuff for Ian: two huge goals in twelve minutes of play . . . I'm interested in what he'll do in the game this afternoon, as he insists he's going to score again . . . but I've got another son on the team: Alex-- he's a seventh grader and he's a skilled player as well, but despite skillfully juggling with me for an hour on Saturday, he didn't play very well in his game on Sunday-- not for lack of practice, but probably because when we were at a BBQ on Saturday night, he was attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets and got stung eight times (including two stings on his testicles) and so you'd think the sporting gods would reward him for enduring the stings and still showing up to play on Sunday, maybe give him an easy goal, but instead he was recompensed with a cleat to the ankle in the early minutes of the game, and then-- once he limped back out there-- an elbow to the face, so he was a gimpy bee-stung trainwreck, and while he toughed it out and didn't ask to sit, he didn't play particularly well . . . so you never know how it's going to go out there-- one moment you're the hero, the next you're the goat, and it doesn't always correspond with how hard you practice.