They enter through the gymnasium doors waddling in with radiant smiles. Anxiously, shrugging off their jackets, they run onto the gymnasium floor like the boomers and sooners of the land rush staking claim over a soccer ball.
Inevitably, two will converge at the same place and it is usually the more vocal who wins the claim over that soccer ball. Little do parents realize how much the size, color and particular soccer ball really matter.
Few, if any, of these future stars know yet that soccer is an Olympic sport or even that there is a Major League of Soccer. For them, warm-up is not about visions it is about fun.
With giant-size hearts, they command the ball across the floor some even donning shin guards, long socks and cleats. They look the part of a youth soccer player but really the only competition is them against the ball.
The thought of avoiding a collision with another classmate never crosses their mind. A phenomenon, when it happens, the collision is as heartbreaking as it is precious. Unlike pre-teens mindful about the possibilities and equipped with collision awareness, these little kickers are earning their bumpers.
At the point of impact, there is an unusual calm, like the lag between Internet dial-up that doesn't exist in a high speed connection. It overtakes the low impact crash scene.
As their little minds process and try to make sense of that which they did not see coming, they are in a state of shock. As I walk up to pick them up off the floor and brush them off, I can hear a sniffle and see tears beginning to well up in their eyes. The more they fight them, the harder it is to hold them back. I know only one cure for such scared little pixies such as these, it is the warm sanctuary of a Mother's arms. Rarely ever more then a bruise or scrap, children, after these minor collisions happen usually return to join the group and resume where they left off as if nothing ever happened.
As we stretch, I notice a boy holding his fist up to another next to him. Slowly, he extends his middle finger and smiles. I am shocked. Speechless you might say. But yet I find myself also mesmerized, curious to what the other boy’s reaction will be. He smiles. What!!!
Fearing what parents would think of me and my inaction, I quickly recollect my thoughts. I prepare myself to begin managing the situation. As I lean in, I suddenly find myself, like the two of them, also smiling. What I had not realized originally was the Sponge Bob band-aid on the finger of the first boy. He was displaying it the way only a five year could.
“Is that a Sponge Bob band-aid,” I asked with excitement and cheer. The first boy could not have been more happy I noticed. We quickly moved on to more exciting things to occupy their minds.
The thought of my first adult reaction and how wrong I was interpreting the moment reminds me, to this day, of how important patience is when working with early learners. To be an effective coach, it is necessary to not only apply self-control to your work but also learn to appreciate how young children think and the innocent ways that make them naturally unsportsmanlike.
After working with early learners and their families for now over a decade, I am amazed less at how much I've taught children and more at how much they have taught me.
Sociologists say, stick with something long enough and you will become part of what you are around. Every class gives me license to be age five again. The freedom to be around so many that love fun as much as I do is so refreshing..
The lesson here is to take a little time today and experience what its like to have fun as if you were 5 years old again. Spend a little extra time with your child and love them as if there were no tomorrow. See you in class!