It's game night, and the Pinecrest Wolverettes are getting ready.
The Wolverettes are my daughter's soccer team. They're all 4 years old, and they're all girls. They've been practicing under their coach, Susanna. They're learning the fundamentals of soccer, which are:
1. You're supposed to kick the ball.
2. You're not supposed to pick up the ball.
3. Even if you really really want to pick up the ball, you're not supposed to.
4. If you have to go potty, try to wait for a water break instead of just trotting off the field.
5. It can be hard to remember this sometimes, but DON'T PICK UP THE BALL, OKAY?
The practices have been grueling. There's a lot of physical contact, in the form of hugging. The Wolverettes hug when they first see each other, of course, but they also hug whenever they re-encounter each other after an absence of more than 30 seconds, or when any player achieves something outstanding on the athletic front, such as making direct physical contact with the ball using her foot. So there are hugs going on all over the place all the time, often with three or four Wolverettes clumping together and reaching a critical mass of affection that falls to the ground emitting squeals of joy. Fortunately, they are all wearing shin guards.
But tonight is not practice: Tonight is an actual game, and I can feel the tension mounting in the car as I drive to the soccer field with three Wolverettes in the backseat. Over the sound of the CD player, I hear them talking game strategy in their little helium voices:
"There's another team and when they run with the ball you have to run and kick the ball away from them."
"But not with your hands."
"But you can kick it with your knees."
"This song is the Cheetah Girls!"
"I love the Cheetah Girls!"
"Or you can bounce the ball on your head into the basket."
(For those of you who do not follow soccer, I should explain that the Cheetah Girls are a singing group that is popular with the Wolverette demographic.)
Finally, we reach the soccer field, where the Wolverettes go through their pregame hugging drills. Coach Susanna also has them do some stretching to loosen up.
I'll tell you who should stretch: The parents. We work HARD during the game. Mainly we urge the Wolverettes to kick the ball.
"KICK THE BALL!" we urge, and then, by way of clarification, we add, "KICK THE BALL! KICK IT! THE BALL! KICK IT KICK IT KICK IT! KICKTHEBALL! KICKITKICKITKICKITKICKIT!"
It is exhausting work but it is important, because from time to time - I would say about every 8 seconds - the Wolverettes forget about the part of soccer where you're supposed to kick the ball, and instead lie down, try to do cartwheels, etc. The opposing team, the Dragons, which is mostly 4-year-old boys, also seems to have a focus problem, so the opposing parents are also working themselves into a frenzy. It would be a lot easier if we let the kids go off and do cartwheels on the sidelines while we parents went out on the field and just kicked the damn ball.
We continue to urge the players on until the game ends and the kids are at last free to run around randomly, which is pretty much what they were doing during the game, except now we parents are not yelling at them to KICK THE BALL. Now we are telling them what a great game they played, and how proud we are of them because they played their best, and the point is to always try hard! It doesn't matter how many goals you get! It doesn't matter if you win or lose! That's why in youth soccer, we don't even keep score!
We lost, 4-2.
But our team is cuter.