No sport transcends religious, political and cultural boundaries quite like soccer. In fact, 9 out of 10 sociologists agree that before soccer existed, boys were already playing it — they just called it something else (football, maybe?). In remote, third world villages where kids are too poor to afford a real soccer ball, they make their own with plastic bags and twine, or kick a rock back and forth. I’ve seen them do it.
So then, what could be more normal than signing up our 6-year-old son for soccer? Most boys enter organized sports around that age (I was 7 when I joined my first soccer team), and we were desperate for a healthy alternative to the marathon hours playing Minecraft on the Xbox.
If you roll your eyes when I tell you my son suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I can’t say I blame you. The condition is over diagnosed, and there are far too many boys being drugged for the crime of just being boys. But Widget1 is the real deal. So real, in fact, that when he first met the head coach, the poor fellow gravely informed us that our son might have ADHD (yes, thank you, coach, we already know that, but congrats on your perceptiveness and please accept our apologies in advance for the terrible things he’s going to do to you, muahaha).
Widget1’s ADHD symptoms tend to be most pronounced during group activities. I’m rarely get to see him in those situations, so when I accompanied him to his first practice this past Saturday, it was eye-opening.
For starters, Widget1 is the family scholar. Up to this point, his talents have been more academic than athletic. But I can’t hold it against him. When I was his age, I walked pigeon-toed, had a tendency to daydream and was too slow to ever get anywhere near the ball. But the crucial distinction is this: while my awkwardness gave me an inferiority complex, Widget1 was so absorbed in his unique perspective on life that he never noticed the advanced skills of the other children.
That’s actually sort of a good thing. But I haven’t yet described the full depth of his…uniqueness.
The rules of social etiquette began to crumble the moment Widget1 met his team. They were doing warm-up stretches, and my son declined to participate because, by his unique logic, he had already done stretches a couple days earlier. After my strong-willed child gets an idea in his head, there is faint hope of knocking it out of him. So after a doomed attempt to explain to him the importance of stretching before exercising, I applied multiple threats to take him home if he didn’t follow his coach’s instructions. Finally, my son took a seat on the grassy field and, with my help, stretched out his legs (at which point I discovered that the hours he has spent thumb-mashing his videogame controllers have contributed zilch toward muscular flexibility).
Then came the “get to know each other” ice breaker session. The coach asked the kids: if you were stranded on a desert island, what item would you want to have with you. Most of the kids said “Bible” (the soccer league is church-based). I didn’t hear my son’s answer, but I could see that he was answering for far too long. The coach was ready to move on, and Widget1 just kept chattering in the peculiar, disconnected, stream-of-conscious way he often does, clueless that he was violating an unspoken social norm. At last, the coach lost patience and interrupted him.
Then came the drills.
At no point during practice did any of the coaches ask for my assistance, but when the drills began, I volunteered myself without asking permission. For the remainder of the hour, I essentially remained glued to my son’s side. He argued with the coach over the proper way to pass a ball (eliciting another threat to take him home), he rarely followed or even heard instructions, he was constantly standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when his turn came to do a drill, I needed to tell him to pay attention and take the turn.
ADHD makes parenting twice as hard. You fight a daily battle between wanting to get your kid out of the house and not wanting to take him anyplace where he might interact with other people. As I’ve said before, Widget1 has a special knack for offending complete strangers. But once in a while, my son’s independent streak manifests in a positive way that teaches me to appreciate the crazy.
One such moment occurred at soccer practice. A girl on his team, who had been placed in the goalie position, took a ball to the face and burst into tears. The coach sent the girl to the sidelines to recuperate, then called on the rest of the team to continue drilling. The children unquestioningly obeyed — all except one. My son insisted that he needed to stay with his injured teammate to make sure she was ok. Then he announced that he would go to the other side of the field to get her a drink from the water cooler. Six years old, and already a Prince Charming! I applauded his kindness and told him I would get the water myself so he could practice with the team.
This last incident brought to my mind an awkward episode from my own past. Boot camp, 1999, just before my 20th birthday. A fellow recruit was sick, and I escorted her to the medical clinic to make sure she got there safely. By that measure, I succeeded, but my actions earned me a stern reprimand, as I had unknowingly disregarded an order about how far I was allowed to walk with her. Instead of apologizing, I defended my actions. A recruit’s safety, after all, was more important than following the rules of the training game. About a week later, I was boarding a bus home, wise to the fact that I was too independent and too terrible at group activities to ever again dream of military life.
Hopefully, my son won’t have to wait until age 20 to learn the same lesson.