Some years ago, one of my 13 year olds rolled his ankle during a Monday practice. The next day, Steve* went to the doctor. His mom emailed telling me it wasn’t a big deal. I told her to hold him out of Wednesday’s practice and we’d see how he was doing for Thursday’s game.
On Thursday, I was standing on the sideline before all the kids had arrived just milling about. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Steve limping badly across the field. As he got closer to me, where he thought I might see him, he clearly tried very hard not to limp or at least make it look like he wasn’t limping. But it was clear to me he wasn’t close to 100 percent.
So he sat down near me and started putting his cleats on. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was getting ready for the game. I told him he wasn’t playing because he was still hurt. He swore up and down he was okay. I tried to reason with him: we have a big rivalry game on Saturday and I want you 100 percent for that. He kept trying to persuade me he was fine. Finally, I just told him sorry you’re not playing and that’s final.
He threw his cleats to the ground and started to walk away, facing away from everyone. Still, I could see tears running down his face.
I immediately had a different appreciation for Steve. I loved the fact that he cared so much about the sport that missing a single game in 8th grade against an undistinguished opponent made him cry. It’s that passion that made him such a special player.
Incidentally, because Steve was unavailable, I gave Dave* a chance to play forward; he’d been primarily a defensive midfielder. Dave was a nice kid who worked really hard and was very scrappy but his skills were so-so.
In six years of playing school soccer, Dave did not score a single goal in any other game.
In this particular game, he scored a hat trick in 11 minutes against a team that had shut us out the previous time. Remarkable! But it’s a testament to taking your opportunity!
*-Not their real names