Flag football: a sport where getting in the way is a useful skill

The oldest son is playing soccer and flag football this year. This is his third year of soccer and first of organized football. Sports get pretty serious in 2nd grade. The soccer team uses a goalie now and there are actual refs on the field. It’s like the World Cup all of a sudden.

Being new to football, we can’t document the changes from 1st grade, though we learned a mouth guard is mandatory. This was a good lesson, and it came in handy when the boy had a face-on-face collision with a teammate during practice. We also learned the difference between soccer shoes and football shoes. When I was a boy, we had one kind of shoe; it was called a sneaker.

Football requires as much determined movement as soccer. This is unfortunate, since the boy uses up all his aggressive play on his little brothers. When it comes to sports with non-related children, he is a passivist.

He is also behind most of his teammates in experience, with a total of two lifetime practices under his belt. Yet he made the most of his practice time in the first game, handing the ball off twice without dropping it, and throwing one almost-complete pass.


Preparing for the snap in shotgun formation.

look it in

Going out for a pass. It’s not important whether or not he caught it.

But his finest moment was one that won’t show up in the stat sheets. He was playing the 2nd grade equivalent of Wide Receiver when the 2nd grade equivalent of Running Back ran a sweep to his side of the field. My boy threw a crucial block, allowing the runner to get around the corner for a long gain. Now, the 2nd grade equivalent of throwing a block is putting oneself in the way of the kid who is trying to rip the flag belt off your teammate, and I’m not sure my son did this on purpose or whether it was just another manifestation of his innate skill of being in the way, but it resulted in a long gain, so who cares?

All those times when, arms full of grocery bags, I tripped over him as he stooped to remove his shoes, just inside the doorway, paved the way for this wonderful moment. Just because I never played football beyond the playground doesn’t mean I’m not capable of coaching him up a little at home.

So, even though the kid may never develop into a star ball carrier or quarterback, I think there is potential for him in this game. I’ve never known a kid so talented at being in the way. As he proved on Sunday afternoon, being in the way is a vital component of the game of football. I’m not sure he’ll ever be large enough to get in the way professionally, but no one expects that.

As long as he enjoys doing it, whether he carries, throws, or catches the ball, or just puts himself in the way of the right player, we’ll cheer him on. I may even compliment him on his blocking practice next time I trip over him.

football hero

The next generation of football hero. Yup, we’re a regular pipeline of star recruits.


The great, golden ecdysiast in the sky

Saturday was our university’s spring football game. They divide the team in two and have an open scrimmage in the stadium. It’s not a nail-biter as far as sporting events go, but it’s getting to be a big event. It’s free and some universities bring in upwards of 100,000 fans. Ours was closer to 50,000 fans.

We weren’t among them. We were at a more important game: the second game of the first-grade spring soccer season.

I like watching Big Brother play soccer. He may not be headed for a professional career, but he likes playing. Watching him celebrate when a teammate scores a goal is worth the price of admission.

The price of admission is herding him and his brothers to the car and getting to the field on time. Not always an easy price.

New Baby fell asleep on the way, so Mommy stayed in the car with him. I spent the first half carrying Buster, so he wouldn’t run off to the adjacent playground.

It was a good game; everybody was into the action. Then Buster pointed to a small plane in the distance. As the plane neared, we could see it was trailing an advertising banner.  Buster had never seen this before, so it captured his attention. He pointed to the banner and asked what it was.

I started to explain, then lost my words as I realized the banner was advertising a local “Gentlemen’s Club.” The blonde girl-next-door-type, flapping in the wind at 1000 feet, stood next to the all-caps “SHOWGIRLS” declaration.

One by one, people began to look up. Coaches began smiling at each other. The game slowed down until it crawled to a virtual stop.

grounded stripper

Just imagine what Nettie might have accomplished behind an airplane. She was a victim of her own era.

The plane passed over and the enchanting lady in the sky diminished in our sight until she almost seemed merely two-dimensional. Buster told me the plane was going away and wasn’t coming back. He was right.

I’m glad Big Brother was in the game; otherwise I would have had to explain what a showgirl is. Buster can’t read, so all he saw was a plane pulling a big piece of paper. And that was enough.

The promotion couldn’t have been for us. Some of us are too innocent for that sort of thing, and the rest get their allowances mostly in quarters. I’m not sure how SHOWGIRLS feel about being tipped with change. Maybe if you warm it up sufficiently first, it’s all right, but I’d bet they prefer paper money.

I figured we were between the spring football game and the airfield. Otherwise, this advertiser wasn’t getting much bang for his buck. It was an inspiring message though; Big Brother scored a goal soon after. This is something he rarely does when not encouraged by heavenly blondes.

Buster had seen an airplane, and that was all he was going to get out of the game. He dragged me off to the playground for the second half. Meanwhile, Mommy slept in the car with New Baby and the iPhone. Nobody even got a picture of the pretty woman flying through the sky.

Let the game come to you

My son scored a goal at his last soccer game. I’m not sure how it happened, and neither is he, but we’ll take it.

You know that kid who dribbles the ball down the length of the field, trailing behind a comet tail of slower children, and boots in five goals per game? My boy is the one at the very back of the following pack, jogging along to see what all the hubbub is at the front.

soccer star

You know those athletes who fail because they try to do too much? He’s not falling into that trap.

He’s not a natural athlete, but that doesn’t bother his enjoyment of the game. Soccer isn’t so much a sport as a social activity to him anyway. He’s the kid who peels off from the action of his own game to wave down his friend who is playing on the adjacent field.

The propensity to get distracted from the game is not uncommon among kindergarteners. This is a good and natural thing. It also has the potential to be comical. During the last game, a child climbed up into a pine tree bordering the field and called the names of players. The players took turns ignoring the action to squint into the tree and try to identify the climber until adults ruined the fun by making him come down.

soccer distractions

“I think that tree just called my name.”

When it comes to style of play, my son is not a dribbler. He is not often very near the ball anyway, but when happenstance does nudge the ball close to him, he is likely to give it a good boot and let the other children chase it down. I am proud to say he almost always kicks it in the right direction.

I am thankful that I wasn’t trying to see the kid up in the tree during that glorious moment when my little superstar tallied his spectacular goal.

Somehow, his team had maneuvered the ball onto the offensive side of the field, which is rare enough in itself. My boy had very cleverly positioned himself on the periphery of the mob,  letting the other children endanger their shins. This wise strategy was bound to pay off eventually.

*Begin slow motion narration*

With six kids kicking it at once, the ball squirted randomly out of the crowd and rolled to my boy’s feet. Finding himself temporarily unable to locate any friends in nearby games, he happened to be watching his own game at that moment.

The ball was at his feet. It was time to give it his one good boot. Turing himself in the proper direction (his best soccer skill), he found himself staring into the empty goal.

He cocked his leg. The other children were almost upon him.

Just in time, my little sniper unleashed his mighty shoe and sent the ball rolling with pinpoint accuracy over those 10 feet and into the goal.

*Resume normal speed narration*

His teammates bounced around him as he launched the celebration. It was a moment of immense pride for me. The boy may not be a natural athlete, but he sure can dance.

Protect your parts

We’ve signed our kindergartener up for soccer this spring. It seemed like a good deal until we realized we had to buy him a jersey, a ball, spiked shoes, and shin guards. I don’t know if we were required to get the shoes, but everything came as a package at the sporting goods store. They saw us coming from miles away.

The shin guards were deemed essential. I suppose this is the way of the world, but it struck me as overkill. I played after-school soccer in elementary school, and we never entertained the idea of protecting our shins. Naked shins were part of the competition. If you couldn’t kick the ball, you compensated by nailing another kid in the shin. Likewise, you had to be aware of your surroundings, inasmuch as they contained other kids’ shoes. After limping home a few times, you learned to pay attention to the game.

I don’t think kids have changed. This smells like adults fearing liability. I’m confident my son will learn to hate wearing shin guards after 30 seconds. They will watch his soccer matches from the trunk of the car. He’ll get kicked in the shin, it will hurt, and maybe he’ll learn to move a little quicker when an expensive soccer shoe is sailing toward him. The thing for the courts to know is that his parents were warned to properly equip him.

putting on shin gaurds

This is how we put on our new shin guards.

shin kickin'

And this is why we put them on. Forget soccer, Daddy could use a pair of these for walking around the house.

I played a lot of baseball when I was young. I already had a glove when I started Little League, so the only thing my mother ever had to buy me was a jock strap. I was her fourth son, but the only one she ever had to buy a cup for. I wonder if she realized her good fortune.

For some reason, we didn’t need a cup to play our regular season. Around July, the coaches chose an All Star team from our town to play against neighboring towns. For this we needed to wear cups, because outsiders would certainly be less considerate of our collective loins than friends and neighbors were.

My mom was inexperienced at selecting such equipment. Consequently, she presented me, at age 10, with an adult cup. I didn’t know the difference; all I knew was that it was difficult to walk, let alone run, wearing that monster. This was not the problem it might have been as I was not much of an All Star. There was little call for me to do much running in the dugout. Through the games, I, and my man-sized bulge, kept company at the end of the bench. Thank goodness, I never had to waddle out into the light of day and play ball in that condition.

Paba Bear and Baby Bear

Size matters – when you’ve got to fit that thing in your pants.

By the next season, we figured out our mistake. I got the appropriate equipment and was able to ride the bench in relative comfort. So I guess the second cup was worth the money. I hope we get that much value out of my son’s shin guards.