Sensational Soccer

If you had been in our house on Saturday morning -- possibly in the vicinity of the upstairs bedrooms -- I would not have blamed you for hearing the ensuing ruckus and jumping to the conclusion that my husband and I were very possibly setting our 5-year-old on fire.

We were (SPOILER ALERT) not setting him on fire. Or setting his toys on fire. We were not doing anything more than trying to get him dressed.

For ... (deep breath) ... SOCCER PRACTICE.


We signed Noah up for soccer -- an activity that a good 99.99999999% of children around here participate in -- once before. He was 3 and there was a little after-school program at his preschool for even the littlest beginner. After two sessions, they kicked him out. Because he wouldn't stay with the group or participate and was becoming a problematic distraction.

No, really. For the life of me I STILL can't quite figure out exactly what those people were expecting from a soccer class for 3-YEAR-OLD CHILDREN, but whatever. Noah DID have real struggles in structured group settings, and still does. Kiddie gym classes and storytimes are just not his idea of "fun" most of the time. But still. HE WAS 3.

The experience certainly gave us pause, though, when it came to trying again. A lot of the programs and leagues are expensive and non-refundable, and while I am huuuuuuge believer in the benefits of organized team sports, I wasn't really in a rush to push Noah into something he wasn't ready for.

And I wasn't the only parent with hesitations. Team sports and activity classes are a frequent topic among the other parents in our special ed class. We just want our kids to find hobbies and coordination and confidence and just ... you know, HAVE FUN. LIKE KIDS. But it's so very, very hard to know what will be "fun" and what will cause spikes in anxiety and tics or frustration.

So we decided to start our own team, along with a couple other families with "kids like ours." A private special-needs school offered up the use of their gym for 45 minutes a week, my husband and another dad volunteered to coach, we pitched in for the cost of matching team t-shirts, and gave each other the unspoken promise that if it didn't work out and everybody hated it, it was no big deal to pull out. Jason spent a few hours online looking up coaching tips and recommended drills for very young children, and for children with special needs.

So back to Saturday morning. Practice numero uno. Noah wept over his new indoor soccer shoes and team shirt and kicked and fought against a pair of slightly shiny-feeling athletic shorts. He thought Jason (also in shorts and soccer shoes and a new coach whistle) was wearing a "costume" and freaked out some more. He begged and begged and begged to stay home.

Honestly, if Jason hadn't promised to coach, we may have very well bailed on it. But we didn't.

Guess what. He did great. His anxiety ebbed once they got there and he stayed with the group and followed directions and kicked and dribbled and shot at the goal. A couple other kids didn't, but you know what? Who cares. Nobody ruined anything for anybody. Everybody had fun. They all left feeling successful and confident.

"I want to go to the soccer game again!" Noah announced. "I want to go to the soccer game EVERY DAY!"

It's tough having a kid who doesn't always fit into the cookie-cutter mold of what the rest of the world expects of them. Sometimes you just have to figure out a way to create something that's a custom fit. And it's so, so worth it.

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