“Is this painful for you?” my husband whispers to me from the sidelines of our home soccer field.
“So painful,” I sigh, shifting in my bag chair and trying to appear engaged during our son’s third losing game of the season.
Did I say third losing game? I meant third losing season. In our past three years of soccer, we have had one victory.
Every spring when soccer registration comes around, we find ourselves saying things like, “Do you want to try a different sport this summer, bud?” Or, “Are you sure you’re going to want to come in from the lake to sweat on a hot soccer field?”
His answer is always the same, “I don’t want to play a different sport—I love soccer!”
When he was younger, my husband and I hypothesized it wasn’t soccer he loved, it was the Doritos, Powerade, and ice cream sandwiches passed out after the game. Treats are what the boy loved. We joked that we could buy BOXES of ice cream sandwiches and PALLETS of Powerade to have on hand through the summer if it meant we didn’t have to drag our bag chairs from field to field throughout July.
But year after year, as our son matures beyond Dorito delirium, he keeps coming back to play soccer.
He never practices at home, despite the soccer net we placed in the side yard and my husband’s suggestions they kick the ball around together after dinner. He is not a skilled player. He’s a strong boy, so he’s had some great kicks over the years when the ball just happened to end up at his feet, but he does not play like he’s in hot pursuit of the ball, or a goal, or a victory. He plays with contentment, or maybe complacency, like he’s just glad to be out there. Just glad to be part of a team.
“I love soccer, Mom. I hope we win a game this year.”
The parents and grandparents on the sidelines begin to cheer, and I snap back to the action of the game. Goal for the good guys?
No such luck.
I side glance at my husband from behind my sunglasses and wonder what he’s thinking.
He was a great young athlete—one of those people who succeeds at most anything he tries. He played college baseball and still drives a golf ball like a boss. He can hold his own on the racquetball court and takes great pride in being the last one with a rubber ball in his hands during a dodge-ball throwdown.
I’ve never been as athletically inclined as he is, but I cracked a baseball over the outfield fence more than once and pulled down lots of rebounds on the basketball court. I threw the discus far enough to matter and bench pressed more pounds than a lot of girls I knew.
We both stood out in our various athletic areas, had our moments of glory and plenty of “Ws” over the years.
But our son—he has never scored a goal. He has rarely had a win. His moments of glory have consisted of a handful of kicks in the right direction. And yet he returns.
He returns to the field summer after summer, game after game, because he wants to play. He likes the kids. He likes his coaches. He wants to be part of something.
He has shown my husband and me he’s not just there for the snacks—he’s there for the team.
He doesn’t have to be the star.
He doesn’t need a winning record.
He just wants to pull up his shin guards, wear his jersey, and cheer for the good plays.
And at the end of the night, even if he never touched the ball during the game, even if he sat the bench more than anyone else, even if his team got completely whooped, he’s there in my backseat saying, “That was a pretty good game! Maybe we’ll win the next one.”
“Maybe, bud. Maybe.” I watch him in my rearview mirror. He pops a Dorito in his mouth, crumbs dropping to his jersey. He smiles and waves orange-tipped fingers at his coaches as we drive away.
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