Football and Friends
Lessons from International Football Tournaments for Eight Year Olds
Earlier I posted a version of this in my Instagram feed, but many people didn’t see the whole story as it was posted in comments. I didn’t realize I had a whole blog post in there, but here we are!
We showed up at the stadium (actually the training facility for Real Madrid) at 8 pm for Austin's 9 pm game versus a team from Sweden. If you're following along from my Instagram stories, I misunderstood it as Swiss because in Spanish they're almost the same. Suecia, Sweden; Suiza, Switzerland. As we found seats in the covered bleacher area, the Swedish parents filled the bleachers next to us waving their blue and yellow flags and hitting a drum. We knew this was a good team because they had beaten a previous opponent 21-0. As we watched them change out of their training jerseys and into their game jerseys, we started thinking we were more than outmatched. The kids looked older. They had a goalie coach. They warmed up in unison. The game started, but it only took a few seconds before they scored. It was clear they would dominate the whole match. As we watched our little ones lose confidence, get pushed down and endure the mounting score, I have to admit I got frustrated. The cheering, some jeering, and the pounding of the drum from the parents next to us made me angry and we all wondered why we had to play such a team in this tournament. When Austin was put in defense, I stood at the railing to cheer him on, but I could see the boys were losing their will to play. Austin made some good plays and aggressive moves, but a lot of goals got past him and his teammates. As the winning team celebrated yet again, with some mocking eye rubs, I started to think about how snobby Swedish people were. In my mind, I determined that I would never cheer for Sweden in the World Cup. After all, they let kids the size of 11 year olds stomp all over 8 year olds in what is supposed to be a local tournament!
We cheered and shouted to encourage our kids, chanting the team name and clapping, and I relaxed. I remembered this is supposed to be fun, and they didn't choose who they played. It occurred to me that I could probably understand a bit just by talking to them, and since they probably speak English, I have an advantage over the other parents. So I wandered over to one dad and asked if he spoke English.
He did, of course, with an accent, and I was reminded how I speak Spanish with an accent and I sure appreciate when people are kind to me. I asked how old the kids were, and, they were all born in 2013. This surprised me, because they were all a head taller than our whole team, not just Austin, but I believed him. Then I asked about the club. It's fairly new, and these kids have played together for 3 years. Did they have to try out? Can they lose their spot next year? Oh yes, he replied. Of course.
Aaah. I was, perhaps, a tiny bit snotty when I told him that they were playing regular club teams. I called our team a neighborhood club that anyone can play in. I said, you should be playing selecciones. He nodded, and admitted it was true.
That's when I realized my anger was totally misplaced. I don't know why Madcup is organized the way it is, but the kids don't choose. There should be two groups: clubs and selecciones, and they shouldn't play each other. But they do, sometimes, and so the club teams are eventually eliminated and in the end the Atlético and Real Madrid clubs play each other for the championship. Now I'm hoping this Swedish team disrupts the system, which is obviously a little tilted. If they end up playing Real Madrid in the championship game, I’ll be cheering for Sweden! Then we talked about how much they are enjoying Madrid, how beautiful it is and how warm the people are. We talked about the US and what a joy it is to live here, and why we chose to come to Spain.
Another sweet moment from this situation was that as parents, we went absolutely crazy trying to encourage our boys. We were chanting “Ciudad Henares” and clapping in unison, yelling every kid’s name, and going absolutely wild every time they so much as touched the ball. One dad told me the next day that his son left the game super happy about how excited we were in the stands. Austin too was kind of in awe of these amazing players, and that he even survived the game to get a boot in there once in a while. Overall, we were thrilled to hold them to 20 points (maybe 19 after an offsides call) and have a friendly conversation.