The Ref has Done his Job by childgrower, Annita Woz.

soccerfeetandballThe tallest, fastest, perhaps biggest girl on our daughter’s soccer team goes for the ball, and with the swipe of her foot, gets it, but not before the opponent falls flat.

The ref blows his whistle.

The audible crack of the opposing team’s shin guard hitting our player’s shin hangs in the air while four growing limbs tangle together, hips and elbows jutting out  at odd angles, all landing in a messy heap.

 The ball rolls away and rests, sitting silently on the field while the girls push themselves back to standing.  

The opponent gets up and brushes herself off.

The ref chats with our player who nods her head in understanding.

Cutting through the brisk fall air, the downed girl’s grandparent screams from the sidelines, “Why do they have to play like that!?” 

Our fouled player looks up, gets red in the face and takes a step back. She is ten. She can  hear more parents from the other team.  They are only about seven feet from her.  She hears it all.  She hears parents from the opposite team making remarks about the fall, and knows she is the one they are talking about.

“This team thinks they can get away with playing dirty.”

“Number 22, we’ll show you a thing or two.”

“What does this team think they can get away with?”

22’s mom, only two camp chairs from the purple-wearing opposing team says, “Play like what? What are you saying?” Her daughter is a powerhouse, a good player, a goal getter, and her baby. This mom is at every game. She is loud and she is positive. She coaches her girl from the sidelines with every ounce of her “Go Girlfriend Attitude.” Her daughter is strong,  talented and driven to perform.

There is not a mean bone in any of the ten-year olds who play on either team.

They are gangly, uncoordinated, and frequently silly.

None of them has the foot skills to gracefully toe the ball, pull it back from the opponent, and circle over with a hop to reverse the momentum of the ball.

They are ten years old. They are playing. They are trying to kick a ball away from another player and put it in a net.  They fall down a lot- sometimes without anyone near them. They have shoe laces that trip them up, legs that don’t move the way they will in a few short years, and they still play with smiles on their faces instead of furrowed brows focused on the win. 

We are a loud team and admittedly,  most new parents when they meet our team step back from 22’s mom.  She isn’t just loud, she actually has an enthusiastic booming voice that can do damage to the ears of anyone sitting in front of her.  During the indoor session, we all scoot several seats away from her to save our eardrums. But, even though she is loud, the words that come out of #22’s mom’s mouth are always positive, always supportive and she says funny things, like, ” You Go Girlfriend”  and “Oh, Sugar!” when  anyone misses a ball or a shot on goal.

She never insults a player or any opponent.

She is an example of motherly love, in the loudest definition of the word. 

The ref has done his job, has called the foul, has counseled the offending player and the ball is put back in play by the opposite team. But that isn’t enough for the poor sports from the other team.

But ten year old number 22 is frozen in her tracks -and not from the 49 degree day with a strong headwind. 22 is facing an angry line of blanket waving parents who aren’t on her side.

She shuffles toward the ball on the throw in, but keeps her hands stiff at her sides, playing like a broken puppet afraid to touch the opposing team, afraid to make a move, trying not to look at the jeering faces of the parents from the other team who are not holding back their laughter at number 22’s stiff armed antics and frozen feet. 

#22’s abilities have disappeared at the hands of her accusers, and she cannot keep herself from half-crying and so she starts to hyperventilate, catches her coach’s attention and is pulled from the game; pulled far away from the parents who cannot trust the ref to do his job.

On the sidelines we are stunned.

We are sitting in our nylon camping chairs, just an armrest away from the jeering parents who continue to discuss the play that offended them.

“Naughty parents!” says one of our own, and announces, “I have to take a walk.” She gets up, gives number 22’s mom a pat on the arm, and walks down the side of the chalked field, and stand with her feet a shoulder’s width apart and breathes.  It is not about her at all,  but her feeling of powerlessness to diffuse the negative situation. It is nagging at her that  a solution is not within her grasp.

The ref has done his job and the call was made when the whistle blew. Our player was advised by the ref. Our team gave up possession of the ball. It should be forgotten.

Yet, across the field, number 22 is unable to play. She is still red in the face, still pacing, still unable to go in.  Her mom circles the opposing team widely and walks to her daughter to help calm her down.  She gives her some distracting physical moves to make, like jumping in place, and running to the nearest tree and back,  and wisely, the coach seizes the opportunity, and puts her back in to play.  

Number 22 shrugs off the sideline war, trusts the ref to fight the bad guys, and takes her brave ten-year old self back out there, where, encouraged by her team mates and her very loud mom, she takes back the field which shows itself to be just a green grass covered field,  not a battle ground at all.

### for EP by Annita Woz, October 5, 2009.

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