My daughter decided to play soccer this spring and is one of only a few 10 year olds on her Under-12 soccer team. It’s not an installation-sponsored, select, or travel team, but simply part of our county’s recreational league. It’s a six week long season, with practice several nights a week, standard issue jerseys, and local teenagers refereeing the games. Her team has practiced regularly and intensely. My girl has worked hard; she listens, follows coaches’ directives, and has conditioned her little heart out.
Despite her efforts, at her first match she sat the bench for nearly all of the first and second halves. After the game ended in a tie, the team huddled while the parents waited at the other end of the field. My daughter walked toward us dejectedly, fighting back tears and a quiver in her lips. I knew it would be best to wait until we were back to our vehicle to ask her about the game.
When the dam broke, I learned she was not only very disappointed about her minimal playing time, she was also upset because her coach had yelled at the team about their lack-luster performance. She took his critical remarks to heart and personalized his punitive declarations. Clearly, her spirit was crushed.
I’ll admit, I was angry that a rec-league soccer coach had allowed his own competitive nature to take over and that he used this crude approach with a group of pre-teen girls. It also made me mad that he hadn’t given my daughter an opportunity to showcase her potential, despite her skill and hard work.
Half a dozen players on our team have been playing soccer together for five years. The coaches have their favorites, and haven’t been overly open to outsiders, newcomers, or my daughter who, as of now, is only known by her jersey number. Our team feels already solidified among the friendships of the players, with the coaches’ impressions of talent and skill, and among the parents who socialize outside of soccer. As the military family, we are often the outliers.
This team doesn’t yet know of my daughter’s fierce competitive nature, her outstanding work ethic, her kindness and ability to make others around her feel special, or her passion for whatever her hands (or feet, in this case) may touch. How could the team know this? We aren’t permanent residents of this state or community; we don’t have much history or a future here; we are just passing through. My anger after the soccer game seemed justified because I felt somehow, indirectly, my daughter was sitting the bench because of our Army service. Our patriotism was perpetuating her penalty.
I didn’t do a good job of hiding my frustration. I was in mama-bear mode and I wanted to protect my daughter’s heart and shield her from this pain she was experiencing. However, as she grows and matures, I’m doing my best to let her fight her own battles when appropriate. I asked her how she thought she should proceed and handle this dilemma. I was half-expecting her to say she was finished with soccer or hear her ask us to speak to the coach. Nope!
My 10 year old showed up to her next soccer practice and stood right in front of the huddle ready to listen. She maintained the front spot and led her team on the one mile warm-up run when practice began. She asked the coach to let her scrimmage as an offensive forward instead of the fullback position where she’s been stuck for the past few weeks. She scored a goal using her less-dominant foot.
I observed all of this and I beamed with pride. You see, this supple fire inside of her isn’t something that we, as her parents can take credit for. It’s just part of who she is and how she is choosing to handle the adversity of being the new kid (again) on her team-du-jour. Our frequent relocations are giving her copious experiences to fine-tune this character trait; spring soccer is just another opportunity.
As her mother, there’s a lesson for me in how my 10 year old is rising above her situation; springing back into shape; recovering from her difficulties.
Here are three ways this soccer season serves as a metaphor in the life of a military child:
1. They show up eager to listen and learn.
Our kids are often the “new kid” on the block, at school, or in sports. They know there’s power in just showing up, sticking to the commitment, and having a teachable spirit. Life is one long learning experience. And our attitude can often determine our aptitude.
2. They take the lead when appropriate.
Because of their varied life experiences, many military children are natural leaders. They understand the importance of honesty, empathy, respect, and communication; these qualities are all part and parcel of adapting to frequent relocations, dealing with prolonged absences of family service members, and expressing often heavy emotions. Our kids, whether they realize it or not, are developing a vast toolbox of personal, real-world readiness.
3. They speak up for the change they’d like to see.
Our military kids have a voice. They are witnessing first hand in their parents, people who advocate for the good of our nation; they’ve given their lives to it. Military kids have a unique and powerful perspective they can offer in their spheres of influence. They aren’t afraid to ask for change. It’s natural for a military child to understand a world where things can be modified, reformed, transformed, and turned around. If anyone knows anything about adaptation, it’s a military kid.
Our soccer season has just begun. And while it has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, I have no doubt it will be a winning season for my big girl! She has the tools in place to kick her own self-esteem into high gear. I’m not worried about her all.
How have you seen your military kids overcome a difficult situation? I’d love to hear from you!
Posted by Claire Wood, Army spouse and blogger at Elizabethclairewood.com. She has recently released her faith-based book for military spouses, Mission Ready Marriage, and is stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA