Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An intro to rep sports

kids, sports, soccer, active

This weekend marked our first introduction to the world of rep sports - Eldest Child had his first tryout for next year's rep soccer team.
At 8:45am.
On a Sunday morning.

Eldest Child isn't exactly a morning person these days, so I set my alarm a little extra early to get a good breakfast together for everyone (and put a pot of coffee on - husband really isn't a morning person, particularly early on a Sunday morning.) After three or four rounds of wake-up attempts (dear God, what am I going to do when these kids are teenagers?) everyone was up, fed and dressed; Eldest Child was awake enough to function at a reasonable level, dressed in jersey, shorts, shinguards and cleats with the appropriate-sized soccer ball in hand - the tryout guidelines required each child to bring a size four ball, no others would be accepted; and husband and I had forms and releases signed and coffees in hand.

I was more nervous than I've ever been for a job interview, first date, Board presentation or first day at a new job; Eldest Child was just excited. It's been three weeks since his summer league ended and he couldn't wait to get back out on the field.

When we showed up at the frost-covered field about ten minutes before tryouts were scheduled to start there was a group already there running drills. We introduced ourselves to the head coach who immediately sent our boy out to start warming up. Within a few more minutes there were dozens and dozens of kids tearing around the field while the coaches stood there with their clipboards and the parents and siblings huddled shivering on the sidelines, hunched over their steaming coffees.

It's bloody cold at 8:45am on a late September morning.

The tryout was interesting.
From what I could see through my frozen eyelids as I jogged on the spot and jumped up and down for an hour and a half trying to keep the blood circulating.

There were the kids whose parents didn't think to put a long-sleeved shirt under their jerseys who will probably be suffering from pneumonia by the next tryout. There was the boy who showed up in his jersey from this past summer - gasp - who was given a warning. (The tryout guidelines specified that athletes were required to wear non-logo, non-team, non-league jerseys. Which meant that we had to go out and buy a plain soccer jersey just for tryouts rather than wearing one of the six already-paid-for jerseys hanging in the closet at home.) There was the group of blustery dads trying to one-up one another - "Well, I ran into Coach last week and he said I absolutely had to bring Christopher this weekend...we weren't planning to do rep soccer next year with the baseball and lacrosse, but if he's that good..." "Aaron played last year, of course, so the tryouts are really just a formality..." "Michael did house league this summer but his coach was telling us all season he should have played rep, so we had to bring him..." There were the parents screaming at their kids from the sidelines - "Come on, Kyle, get in there! Move! Take the ball!" - and the ones hissing in their children's ears when they came off field for a water break - "If-you-don't-start-moving-faster-you-will-not-make-this-team-" and then there were those who dumped their kids on the field and went back to sit in their warm, heated cars for the full hour and a half.

The kids seemed to range in ability from good house league player to exceptional, oh-my-God-there's-no-way-that-kid's-eight-years-old. It was pretty obvious which kids played rep last year - not just in their skill level, but in their confidence. They knew the drills the coaches were running, they knew where to go and what was expected of them. The rest of the kids were more tentative, looking for instruction, waiting for someone else to go first.

Eldest Child did very well. We are constantly surprised by how confident that kid can be in a group of his peers- he was always such a shy little boy when he was younger. But he adores soccer - it really is his passion. The coaches were fantastic - there's a very clear distinction between a house league coach and a rep coach. The drills they were running, the organization and flow of the practice, the way they explained and demonstrated the skills, the smooth transitions, how they managed both returning and new players without singling anyone out, and the coordination involved in giving a zillion kids an opportunity to work and show their stuff and be evaluated all at once, two-thirds of whom they'd never seen before that morning. We were really impressed.

Of course we want our little athlete to make the team. It's what he wants. His dream is to be a professional soccer player when he grows up, and this is the first step. It's an enormous commitment for the whole family if he does make the team, and frankly I'm not sure about spending ten months of the year with those crazy parents. But playing in a recreational league with players who just aren't at his level isn't giving him the coaching he needs to improve or the challenge he needs to excel.

We also realize just how competitive this process can be, and he may not make the cut this year. We've tried to look at is as a learning experience - this is our first introduction to how it all works. If at the end of tryout season he doesn't make the team, at least we will have experienced it and know what to do going forward. We'll know what's expected, we'll have feedback from the coach, we'll know what to work on and practice for next year. And, whether he makes the team or not, I think it will be a valuable learning experience for all of us. Kids need to learn to work hard and try for what they want, succeed or fail, and I believe sports are the very best way to learn that lesson.

One tryout down, five more to go.
I wonder if there's any chance the mornings will be warmer as we head into October.

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