I love sports, but I don’t push it on my kids. Whether you believe that or not is up to you.
I’d love for them to seek out athletic success at all hours of the waking day. I’d love for them to have the drive to be the best they can be, the killer instincts to know when to take over the game and a field IQ worthy of being the coach on the field.
But they are not the most athletic, and they enjoy sports more recreationally than anything. This doesn’t disappoint me, because I can be rational about their talents, even if a dozen years ago I dreamt of one day being the proud dad of Team USA softball’s starting centerfielder.
So when my 13-year-old daughter scored her first soccer goal in five seasons of Rebels soccer, it was a day I had always hoped would come for her, yet never thought actually would.
For years I watched her toil away, trying to learn the game one spring at a time (she didn’t play fall league, because there was always too much going on). She would try to learn positions, improve her kicking and dribbling skills — yet it has always been obvious she’s not the “scoring” type. She’s slower than most other forwards, she’s petit and her leg struggles to power up enough to give the ball a proper boot needed to get past a keeper.
To get just one goal, I always thought to myself, would mean she could be like all the other kids (and myself at her age), and see success. Just one goal could keep her from getting discouraged, and maybe propel her confidence further than ever.
“Technically, I scored a goal once, but it technically didn’t count because of foul or other penalty,” Perla told me in the kitchen on Sunday. I responded, “No, technically it wasn’t a goal, or else it would have counted.”
This mini argument over the word “technically” lasted a few more back-and-forths before she conceded.
In year’s past she’s had open shots off of rebounds, attempts from the edge of the box and twice was standing next to the goalie but was never able to find the net.
This past Saturday at the MAYSA Cup in Verona, it happened. Her teammate Karlee pushed the ball hard up the right side, got around the left back and fired a lob pass through the box toward Perla. The opposing goalie tried to jump and catch it, but it was over her head. Perla just stood there, surprised the ball had reached her. The ball then ricocheted off Perla’s motionless leg and into the net. She turned, wide-eyed, because it went in, and celebrated with her teammates. It was like the trick from The Sandlot, when Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez hits a fly ball directly into Scotty Smalls glove in the outfield.
After the game, I tried to explain to Perla that not only was it a great effort and pass from Karlee that led to the goal, but that she had actually found herself in the correct position.
As happy for her to score the goal as I was, I actually found myself prouder a few minutes later when she took the ball up along the left sideline from midfield to the corner, pivoted away from the defender and sent a beautiful pass to her teammate Alyssa for a one-touch shot and goal. It was that type of hustle play that made me think, “Hey, maybe she’ll get interested in this competitive athletics thing after all.”
Or maybe not. It’s her choice. And it should always be her choice for everything.
— Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times and is now anxiously awaiting the Women’s World Cup, which starts in just over two weeks. He can be reached at email@example.com.