Finding his own feet in football

footie boots

Two years ago this week, no.1 son sat on his bed and refused to go to football practice. He wasn’t as skilful, he said, as the other players and he wasn’t enjoying it. He wanted to change teams and play with his friends.

No.1 son started at his club aged four and two-thirds. He was sharp and smart and quickly became, not exactly a favourite, but appreciated and recognised by the coach. The following year, when the players were streamed and began playing in teams, no.1 son was in the top team. Through the ages six, seven, eight he kept his status as a first teamer and put quite some stall by it.

Other boys were more skilful, faster, stronger and braver, but no.1 son was the first to make passing key to his game. Surprisingly for a club that preaches a ‘total football’ mantra, he was stereotyped early as a defender. I think it was because he was attentive and responsible, he wouldn’t rush up field, abandoning his post. It gave him a role and kept him in the first team.

From age 9, he began competitive football. As the gap in size between him and his teammates grew, so it seemed did a gap open up in terms of ability. He was playing with some seriously talented footballers. He was displaced as first choice defender and would play about a third of a match, usually when the victory was secured. His game stopped developing. He deferred to his teammates, unloaded the ball as soon as he could, rarely left his own half and didn’t score a goal in two seasons.

Before some games he would say he felt ill. He didn’t look at ease with his teammates some of the time and he was on the outside of their socialising. On the field, he didn’t receive many passes from them. It was frustrating to watch and difficult to talk to him about. Being a first teamer had become part of his identity even though he wasn’t fitting in.

And then at the end of his second season of competitive football, one week after a famous cup final victory, in which he had played a solid part, he sat on his bed, refusing to go to training, crying and laid out his need. He wanted to play in the fourth team, with his school friends. I called his coach and to the club’s credit – chaos would ensue if every child wanting to change teams was indulged – they arranged the transfer.

He joined the fourth team in time for two end of season friendlies. Ten minutes into his debut, he picked up the ball outside the opposition penalty area, moved through a gap and shot past the keeper. His first goal in a match for two years. And he smiled and kept smiling, playing with his friends.

His first coach at the club sought me out to find out what had happened. He was concerned that no.1 son would be playing a lower standard of football and wouldn’t develop. It was true that in his first season, when he was player of the year, some of the opposition was poor. But it gave a player, introverted and anxious the year before, the time and space to flourish, to demonstrate skills I had no idea he commanded and repeatedly to show the vision he has for the game and the passing to make it tell. And he was happy.

Starting secondary school last September he had the confidence to try out for the school team. He won a place in the squad, playing alongside lads established in the local professional club set-ups. He was awarded the special socks that mark him as a ‘first teamer’.

And today, things have come full circle. No.1 son’s school team played in the League Final against the area’s strongest school. He came on as a substitute in the second half and stayed on the pitch until the final whistle and two periods of extra time. Still smaller and slighter than the other boys, he played tidily on the left, winning and distributing the ball. He lined up on the same field with two and against another four from the club first team he had left two years ago.

No.1 son’s school won today on penalties. He earned the right to be on the field with so many fine young footballers, which makes me proud. And I’m prouder still, that he did it his way – choosing when and where he wanted to move team and becoming a better and happier footballer because of it.

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7 Comments

Filed under individual development, skills, social animals

7 responses to “Finding his own feet in football

  1. sarahmo3w

    As a touchline mum, that post really moves me! Fair play to him for making his own decisions and making progress in a way that is right for him! So good to hear that he made it to his school team as I know how many kids there are wanting to play for a secondary school team. I’m lucky that my little footballer is a true first team player, but his best friend isn’t and it makes me sad to see him wandering the touchline for 75% of the game until it’s ‘safe’ for him to be brought on – ie we’re winning and he can’t mess it up! Next season they are going to have league first and second teams for the first time. I hope the boys don’t mind being separated 😦

  2. It is so tricky. Football quickly becomes so important to them that some boys will prefer to be unhappy if they can play where they think they should play. But I can’t see them staying in the game long-term unless they are having fun.

  3. You must be so very proud of your son – well done to you both for sticking this out and achieving a resolution.

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  6. This is a lovely post and really demonstrates the value of finding your own feet and building (rather than knocking) confidence… Good luck to your son in all his endeavours!

  7. Thanks for sharing this, even though I’m late to it & finding things out to support my own sporty son. No.1 keeps saying he wants to play football in a team. He left when Scouts was on the same night & he preferred to do that & continue with football at school. It’s reared it’s head again recently, as he wants to be ‘scouted’, (latest goal in life), as some school friends play for local academy teams.
    Your son showed strength in character, and you have to admire that. He’s learnt that his way of developing is by his own methods, and it sounds like he’d lost his confidence in the first team. Children’s confidence is massive in their performance, whatever area of life.
    It reassures me that your son has embraced his own development, with your support. It encourages me that the conversations we’re having here, right now, about sporting development are on the right tracks. Thank you.

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