It’s not often a father can recall a single incident that clearly changed his daughter’s life. I know of only one. On the most basic level, I think of it as the spark that caused Molly to fall in love with soccer. In truth, however, something more important occurred on that warm June evening.
Molly, my wife, Michelle, and I had eaten dinner at a restaurant and were driving home when we noticed a boys’ soccer game at an elementary school near our house. Michelle dropped Molly and me off to watch.
At 9, Molly had been playing soccer for three years. Though she enjoyed it, she played only at formal practices and games. I coached her team, and though I hated to admit it, she was just an average player, one of a half dozen girls with some natural ability but no real passion for soccer.
Watching the boys play, Molly and I sat behind one team, far from the other spectators. It hadn’t rained for weeks. There were no mosquitoes. It was an idyllic evening. For about ten minutes, Molly and I watched haphazardly and talked.
Then one of the players began juggling a soccer ball—tossing it softly into the air and keeping it aloft with his feet and thighs. He could kick the ball as many as 15 times in a row, keeping it airborne and retaining control. When the ball fell to the ground, he picked it up and started anew. The boy was Molly’s age.
Molly watched him, amazed. “How can he do that?” she asked.
“Simple,” I said. “He practiced.”
“I want to learn how,” she said.
When Molly and I walked home that evening, she got a soccer ball and we began juggling in the driveway together. We weren’t good enough to keep the ball constantly in the air, so we did a modified version of juggling, permitting it to bounce once between kicks. To challenge ourselves, we counted how many times we kicked the ball without allowing it to bounce twice. Our record was 16.
Over the next two months, Molly continued to juggle on our concrete driveway. I often joined her; we continued to play our game, keeping track of how long we kept the ball aloft with no more than one bounce.
We vowed to reach 100 by summer’s end.
On the soccer field, Molly’s efforts brought quick results. Almost overnight, she could do things with the ball that she had never imagined doing. When it came to her in the air, she was able to control it, as though she were juggling. She could dribble past defenders. She had more fun. She had realized many of the benefits of practice for girls.
What wonderful lessons for a child to learn. Practice is not something you do only with your team. Practice can be fun. Practice and you will improve.
Frank Clancy writes for many national and regional publications.