Every parent loves those moments when we get to brag a little bit about our kids. My moment came yesterday, not in glory or amazing feat, but in pride for my baby girl just doing her best. Yesterday completed my daughter’s very first foray into competitive sports in the form of U5 YMCA soccer. Since she has always been a very shy child and very reserved we were really nervous about signing her up for a team based activity, but she insisted she wanted to play and so we gave her the chance. The first practice went pretty well by any standard, but not the second. The second practice, which was the last before the first game, met with great resistance and hesitation. It was a struggle as was getting her out to the first game just 2 days later. But something happened during her first minutes on the pitch, her team scored. We didn’t see teeth, but her expression was unmistakable, she liked that.
The rest of the season never again saw a struggle for participation. She never even thought of quitting again and expressed her enjoyment for playing. In practice, she is the only kid who does everything the coach asked exactly as she is told. She is active and gives her all and never quits or even breaks for water unless she is given permission. During games she stayed on the outside of the pack, away from the ball, but always with the group. Despite her parents cheering her to just go kick the ball she would actually step away from the ball if it came at her. The last game her coaches tried positioning her right next to the opponents goal to steal her a goal but she wasn’t biting. She kicked the ball in a game 4 times this season, plus a throw in and an indirect kick and maybe one kickoff. For her, that made her feel good and she enjoyed herself as much as her mom and dad did watching her.
All this leads to the end of season party on Saturday. We expected her to get a trophy for the season and knew how excited she would be to get it. She was quite excited to see them lined up on the table before the presentation. What happened next was unexpected by all of us. Her coach, who does her U5 and a U7 team, pulled out another box with all kinds of special trophies he bought himself. Coach awards were presented as well as some medals and an MVP award for each team. (OK, I’m choking up a little writing this part.) Then her coach pulled out a neat little bobble head type trophy and gave a little speech about a player on his team that won him over. A player who was hesitant in the beginning but refused to quit all year. A player who worked harder than anyone else on his team week in and week out. He mentioned how no other player had come so far all season and of course he was talking about my little girl. My little girl won a special trophy for the Most Improved Player and walked to the front of the crowd with her biggest shy smile and accepted her special trophy along with a hug from her coach. She returned with her 2 trophies to her tear heavy parents stunned by the events and so full of pride and elation. After all, this was a child once evaluated to be 18 months behind in her social skill development and had special therapy to try and shrink that gap. Dammit, I could not be more proud of her. She has come so far and even though she still has a lot to work on, I know for a fact she’ll never give up.