It’s been a month since we’ve completed our move south and things are feeling “normal” again, and that has much to do with the start of soccer season.
As any travel soccer parent understands all too well, the season is that magical time of year when there’s hardly ever time to sit down together as a family. Instead, you’re picking up child No. 1, dragging her across town during rush hour so she can practice with her teammates, all the while trying to figure out how to entertain for the next 90 minutes child No. 2, whose team doesn’t practice until the next day—at a different time and, of course, on a different field.
Then there’s the stress of finding time to finish homework, study for tomorrow’s math test, eat dinner, take showers and, if there’s time, sleep.
That hectic schedule is why we’ve decided to take things slower this fall, enrolling our oldest, Shannan, in the league that’s run by the Town of Harrisburg instead of signing her up again for “club ball,” known back home as “travel soccer.” The stakes are much higher with club ball as it comes with intense practices run by paid trainers, mandatory participation in tournaments typically held over holiday weekends, and extensive travel for road games that could start as early as 9 a.m. or as late as 4:30 p.m.
We made the right decision. Though unpaid, Coaches Brian and Donny are excellent tutors; They’ve played the game, know the rules and enjoy teaching Shannan and her new teammates. Coach Michael, who has the difficult job of coaching a co-ed team of sometimes rambunctious 5- and 6-year-olds, is always calm and patient, even when the heat index hovers in the upper 90s and Fionna, our youngest, looks like she’s ready to melt.
While learning the game is still a top priority, it is placed on the same level as “having fun” with intramurals—and that’s the main difference between it and club ball. For example, my girls had an actual say for the first time in the naming of their respective teams, a decision that, in the past, was made by adults. (For the record, I understand why this responsibility was handled by adults for travel teams back home. Nine-year-old girls who want to be called the “Purple Unicorns” now might not dig the name when they’re juniors in high school.)
Still, it’s pretty darn cool to be able to pick a name, and not fret about whether or not it’s still “appropriate” when they’re teenagers. Team names are picked every year on intramurals, meaning there are no long-term repercussions.
With Fionna’s team, we didn’t realize they had even picked a name until they completed a cheer at the conclusion of their most recent practice. On the count of three, Coach Michael and his team—seven boys and three girls—shouted “Who are we?” and the kids yelled, “The Lava Melons!”
Fionna won that practice’s game of “Animals,” when the kids pick an animal they want to emulate in terms of speed—I’ve never seen so many cheetahs in my life outside an African plain—and try to dodge soccer balls kicked by the coach. Fionna earned the right to go first though, clearly, the boys had a say in the slight modification of her “Watermelons” suggestion.
Shannan’s coaches did things slightly different. They asked parents to solicit two suggested names from their daughters and then text the offerings to them during the week. The girls would then vote on the submissions at the next practice.
That happened on Friday evening and while Shannan’s first suggestion, “Lightning,” was met with crickets, her second choice, “The Kickin’ Chickens,” was greeted with cheers and laughs, from both her teammates and parents. One mom even applauded, adding that she’s looking forward to leading parents in performing “The Chicken Dance” on the sidelines during games.
The inspiration for Shannan’s suggestion? Her favorite meal offered at Zaxby’s, a restaurant chain specializing in wings, that includes three chicken tenders smothered in hot sauce and served between two pieces of Texas toast.
One cannot help but smile upon hearing Coach Donny yelling, “Who are we?” toward the end of Shannan’s most recent practice, and overhearing 10 girls yell in unison, “The Kickin’ Chickens!”