Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kicking It

Every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening for at least 10 years, from the thaw in early April to first snow in December, there has been a pick-up game of soccer down by the Lake.

Sneakers or shirts mark the goals and a shot has to be below the knees to count, but no one keeps score anyway. The boundaries are as wide as the ball is kicked and the field dips and rolls dangerously, not at all a good field for sports, but always available for our purposes.

Teams are darks and lights, and if it gets unbalanced, a few of us have learned to bring an extra shirt to switch sides. Players range in age from 60’s to 6 with the majority being 30’s and 40’s. We urge caution when it gets rough and hold back from the collisions you might see in a college game. If the ball gets by me, I know better than to chase hard after it.

Still, this is some serious soccer. A small city that was 99% white when this game started, Burlington has benefited from a refugee population and the new world economy. Latinos, Bosnians, Africans, and Arabs play with passion, fuming in their languages. We Vermonters can hold our own, though. There is no break in the action for 2 to 3 hours as people drop in and out, according to their schedules. It is clearly about the love of the game.

My son watched the first few times I played. Then invited in, he waited cautiously off to one side, dribbling a few kicks when the ball came to him as the guys playfully jostled and challenged the 6 year old boy. Gradually, he has moved towards the center of the action, scoring against serious challenges, sticking solidly on defense, and biking to the park on his own if I am running late.

Injured seriously in college play, then moving to a little town on the Oregon Coast, I thought my soccer days were long over. We get old, don’t we? Have families, have to protect our bodies? We should not be kicking in a young man’s game. But play I do: full sprints (10 yards!), solid headers (off the bounce!), long kicks (for the first few minutes!), and dancing out of crowds (sometimes with the ball, usually not!).

I have learned to play defense because I just cannot run like I used to. Let them come to me, I say! With age and experience comes patience. I find just staring at the ball, no matter how much the South American moves it left, right, and all around, I can sometimes reach my foot in there and snap it away. I rarely run with it. For me, it is all about redistribution. To be still playing and learning at 54 is a wonderful surprise, and I suppose if a heart attack did happen, I could not pass any more peacefully.

But the very best is to be doing this with my son. Sometimes we are side by side on defense, covering for each other, communicating with body, words and grunts. He is behind me if the guy gets past, and a thrill to watch “sticking” it away from somebody inches in front of me.

Last night, we played against each other. He scored a hat trick (but who’s counting?!!), shoved the ball right through my legs twice, and gloated for those successes. I got it away from him several times, considered now a victory compared to candy from a baby. The standout moments were stride for stride, arms shoving, feet entangled, laughter all around us.

Everyone wins.

(Pictures would be a part of this if I could stop playing long enough to take any)

Please share with your friends


Anonymous said...

Amazing how popular soccer has become here in Canada, and also in the States. My oldest girls were heavily involved when they were younger. Now my six year old is into it and loves it. For us parents it is cheap too. About $140CDN to sign up. This includes twice a week games for two months, and the uniform. We have to provide shoes and shin pads. Compared to hockey, our national passion, which costs at least $2000per year.

When we travel we always take along a soccer ball to kick around.


TheElementary said...

"Latinos, Bosnians, Africans, and Arabs play with passion, fuming in their languages."
I really liked this line. Sounds to me like part of a poem :)
What a fun and healthy way to spend time with your son.
"To be still playing and learning at 54 is a wonderful surprise"- thanks for sharing the wisdom.
great post.

Sky said...

when i was in new england in the late 1980s i did not see anyone but caucasians - sounds like things have changed! :)

i love this post. enjoying a passion with someone you love is nothing short of fabulous! and he can score on his dad, huh? he must love that! :))

glad you stopped by for a visit. we will be headed to the central oregon coast in 6-8 weeks for a few days - such a beautiful retreat. what part of oregon were you in?

Kip de Moll said...

Yeah, Steve, as one of the first "good" kids to switch from football to soccer in High School, I can testify it's safer, cheaper, and great for little guys!

Thanks, elementary, this father/son resonates for so many reasons. We need to let men be more human and open and caring. There's alot going on to allow that. I'll keep you posted.

Sky, I was on the northern coast, Neahkahnie Mtn. My other blog tells a pretty good story about living there: Just beyond the end of the story, my sister had a son named Skye.

roger said...

you're putting that college writing study to good use.

robin andrea said...

Thanks for stopping by the Dharma Bums. We appreciated your comment. You have a very nice blog here, Kip. I'll definitely stop back again to read how life is in Vermont.