Clay and I signed Narls up for soccer in September. He's played on & off for the last three or four years, easy skill-building sessions geared for toddlers and small children. He didn't play at all last year and we didn't think he'd play this year, but he showed interest during Emerson's game so Clay talked to Em's coach who found an age-appropriate team for him.
We showed up for his first practice and I could immediately tell this season was different from those we've done in the past. These boys were good. And competitive. And close. "Guys, this is Narls" the coach said to them. A few of them started snickering. "Naaaaaarllls. Your name is Naaaarls." More snickering.
I busied myself with setting up my chair, situating my coffee, finding a book for Em.
The coach started practice with some drills and Narls seemed lost. I don't know what sessions these kids have been playing prior, but they weren't the easy ones we were doing. They were completing passes and dribbling and staying in position while my kid was trying his hardest just to keep up, all the while with an eager smile that was breaking my heart.
The taunting continued the whole hour. The coach discouraged it by refusing to make a big deal of it, giving the kids sharp orders to focus on soccer. One kid, who will forever have my heart, got right in the face of the main taunter and yelled "QUIT MAKING FUN OF HIM". I internally debated between sitting back and watching, letting Narls have this life lesson, or getting up and pulling my boy into a protective hug and telling the jerk kids and their jerk parents what huge jerks they all were.
I opted to stay seated. But throughout it all I telecommuted to my boy, you're awesome, you're doing great, ignore those kids, with lots of thumbs up and brave smiles.
After practice, the coach came up to me and said Narls did great. That he's tough. That he has a solid soccer foundation and he'll fit right in and he'll see us tomorrow morning for their game. I noticed two kids - the kids who did the majority of the teasing - running laps as we drove away.
In the car, Narls asked me why the kids were teasing him. I told him I thought it was because he's new. Those boys have been playing together for a while it seems. I bet they probably even know each other from school. The new kid - at sports, at school, at work when you get older - always gets some razzing. They're seeing how strong you are; they're waiting for you to prove yourself.
He nodded at my answer and looked out the window. I could tell he was thinking it over. Analyzing it. I like how Keiffer stood up for me, he said. Me too, I told him.
That night I told Clay that the coach most definitely would NOT be seeing us at tomorrow's game because we weren't going back. This isn't the league for us. Narls is sad. He's traumatized. The kids are jerks. Their parents are jerks.
But you know what? We went to tomorrow's game. Narls woke up excited. Ready. He wasn't sad. He isn't traumatized. Those kids aren't jerks; they're kids. They tease. That's what kids do. And the parents aren't jerks either; they're struggling to know when to step in and when to let their kids work it out themselves, just like Clay and I are.
The team's last game is this Saturday. We've been to every one and Narls has played his heart out. He's improved a ton during these eight weeks, which is evident on the field. He's confident. He's completing passes and dribbling and staying in position. He hasn't made a goal yet, but he's hungry for one. He's made friends with his teammates, too; they laugh and run together and easily pass the ball to each other. There is still teasing but Narls is now dishing it, as well as receiving it. And when he feels that he's had enough, he sticks up for himself.
This has been good for him.
And it's been good for me.