Thursday, October 29, 2009

Futbol en la sangre

I have been Andy's soccer coach for the last 5 years. If you have ever been or happen to be a teacher or coach then you know the challenges and rewards of the work. Add your own child or children to the mix and the game changes. Coaching Andy (and all my children) has been a very good experience overall and not without challenges.

Recently, however, the kids have chosen to be involved in other activities. Lydia played soccer when she was in fifth grade here. She was the only girl that played during the all boys recreation time each week. She really enjoyed it and she was well received. Her approach to the sport is so different than Andy's and we were impressed by her confidence. We aren't really sure if she will continue or how that might look now that she is in sixth grade (first year of "high school" here). She continues to ask us to sign her up for swimming at a local rec center we belong to.

Abby is doing her thing: Karate and Equitacion, which is sort of like gymnastics on a horse! Well, if you know Abby this probably isn't surprising. As her friend Micah says, "Abby is so brave!" Sometimes we really can't believe it. On her first day, she reported that she rode the horse and stood on one foot on it's back.

Currently, Andy is the only one of the three who is playing soccer formally. Two days ago one of his friends asked the soccer coach at school if Andy could play with the school team in the games they had scheduled for yesterday. The coach's response was positive and Andy came home mostly delighted for the opportunity. This was a great turn of events because, up to this point, Andy had expressed some anxiety about playing on a formal team due to his perception of the abilities of the players at school. He had limited himself to soccer during recess and P.E. with a few of his friends, in a relatively free structure without any pressure. I don't think he realized he was playing with most of the best players in his grade.

As a coach I have tried to mainly facilitate two things simultaneously: love of the game and technical abilities. So, it was interesting to see how those methods translated to Andy's abilities to play here in Colombia where, "Futbol es en la sangre" or "soccer is in the blood" (This is even something Colombians say). The coach had him playing center mid-field or "Volante" for the vast majority of both games. I was surprised because, traditionally, this is one of the most valuable and important positions. The team is comprised of a variety of ages, most being older than Andy by a year. In addition, I should say, this being a school team is not at all the cream of the crop. Private club teams attract and train a higher competitive level of player overall. Andy fit very well.

I thought Andy played great. He knew where and how to pass with accuracy. He played at 100% until his tank was empty, which is how he middle ground really, and he was generally in a good position. At the same time, I was struck by the difference between Andy and the two best players on his team. Although there were plenty of things they have yet to learn, they seemed to have an instinctual sense of how the game is played; they were more fluid and they seemed to have a better grasp of strategy. In the end, however, I really only noticed one difference between the majority of players I have seen and coached in the U.S. and those I watched yesterday: Passion!

Players in the U.S. have passion for the game in a sense, but it is more like a passion to succeed, win, or beat someone else. Here, you can see the pure joy and love that the kids have when they are on the field. You play soccer just because. It doesn't have to be planned. It seems to be reflective of what people say, "soccer is in the blood".


  1. oh, i am so happy for you all.

  2. Dear Jennifer and Aaron,
    I was just thinking about you guys and wondering what was up -- especially soccer wise of course. It was great to see this entry and hear what was going on soccer wise. My women's team had a fantastic tournament last night. I scored with about two minutes to play in the championship, putting us up 4 to 3. Then they got a free kick with three seconds to play and tied the game. They won the T-shirt on goals against. It was a lot of fun.
    Gabo and Mario both had a blast with school soccer this fall.
    All the best,

  3. So interesting, Aaron, and I totally see the opposite of the deep understanding that you describe in our youth soccer scene here. The prevailing idea among parents, I think, is that soccer is a good safe activity for kids that is easy to understand (just kick and run), but few people are living and breathing it like you say. Some do. When I coach kids, the biggest challenge is reminding them there's a game going on. Some of our kids run faster to the after-game snack than to the ball. My co-coach and I have discussed finding a way to stick donuts on the ball, but... I think your point about passion for beautiful moments of play as opposed to the desire to dominate is really profound and culturally significant. I try to remind kids that they can't have a great game without a strong opponent, but the eyes kind of glaze over.

  4. To have this understanding is why you're there.