I have nothing against organized team sports. At nine, I was the only girl on my baseball team. I never made contact with the ball and spent my time off the bench in right field, but I played a year of baseball. By junior high, I played neighborhood softball, co-ed and multi-age. By this point, I occasionally hit the ball and made my way to left field or even the infield. Tennis lessons followed, and while I still have no functional serve, I can volley causally for exercise and fun. My kids have played soccer, one in a low-key neighborhood league and the other in a more formal league at the recreational level. Skills were learned, acquaintances made, and teamwork developed. Good stuff.
However, when my older elected to forgo soccer this spring, I did an internal dance of joy. No more practices across town, starting during rush hour. No more weekends eaten by games. No more whining about getting ready for practice by my older son or me. Once my inner glee settled, I asked him about the change of heart. He’s been ambivalent about soccer for the past two seasons, so I wasn’t surprised at the announcement, but I did want to know his thought process. “Well, Mom,” he began, “it’s just that in soccer I feel like just one of a team. I don’t feel like an individual person.”
Well, duh. It’s a team sport. But I got it. He liked the kids and coaches well enough, but the whole team part was a wash for him. It’s not a limelight issue, and it’s not actually working as a team. Two years of FIRST LEGO League on 2nd and 3rd place in the state teams and a year in TARC’s rocket competition has honed his teamwork skills. He’s not a terribly competitive kid (that gene was passed directly from their father to his younger brother), and the whole competitive nature of team sports is not terribly interesting to him. He is competitive with himself. Besting a previous long hit with the golf clubs interests him, and he challenges himself with harder woodworking projects, more difficult piano pieces, and increasingly complicated chemistry. And, of course, he prefers to play for a winning team. Like for most of us, winning feels good.
He’s competed in piano competitions for four years, although he prefers playing for the congregation at church. Perhaps some perfectionism is at play. After all, he’s been known to avoid tasks he perceives as too difficult (read: they may not work out how he sees them in his mind’s eye). But I think perfectionism isn’t the issue here. He played soccer previous years because he liked to move and enjoyed the rhythm of the games. His favorite seasons were played under a young, energetic, kind, and very demanding coach. Those boys ran and drilled until they were piles of exhausted uniform and sweat. And my older son loved it. His last two coaches have demanded less physically, and his enthusiasm has waned over those years. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Whatever the cause, he’s happy to leave soccer behind and to informally pursue golf and tennis, two sports he can carry through his life that don’t require teams of nine or more to play. Sure, he can join golf and tennis teams down the road. and perhaps he’ll select that path. Both are social sports, good to play with friends and family and decent ways to cultivate relationships, especially since he’s not the type to go for blood on the tennis court or the golf course. And for that, I’m grateful. Both allow him to continually hone his skills and challenge himself as much as he desires. And that’s good stuff.