Cautiously Optimistic About Optimist Football

     My eleven year old son recently traded in his sparring gear and nunchuks for football pads. It was a decision two years in the making. Last year he said he wanted to play youth football but once he found out practice was five nights a week, he decided that didn’t sound very fun and would be too hard to juggle with school. But after another year of playing football at recess with his friends and playing Madden on the Xbox, he was determined to give it a try. My husband was shocked that I was fine with it and not worried about him getting hurt. “I’m from a football loving family, it will be fun to watch him play. And,” I told him,” I’m not one of THOSE moms.” Besides, I always want to give my kids opportunities to try out new things and find what they love. If he signs up he has to play all season whether he ends up liking it or not; we won’t let him quit after paying hundreds of dollars. But if he doesn’t like it that much, he doesn’t have to sign up next year. Simple. I was much more concerned over having to drag him to practice when he didn’t feel like going than I was of injuries. After all, they’re only eleven, its not going to be that hard core. Right?

      Practices started this week. My husband had bought him all the best gear and he looked SO COOL in it. I was a proud mommy and I was confident he’d do fine. But once we got there and he lined up with the other kids for warm-ups, the nerves hit me. “Look at some of these meatheads,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t even really the size of the other kids that scared me, as my son isn’t the smallest, he’s right in the middle, but it was their demeanor. They were cocky and mouthy, acting like they were the bomb. One boy was already talking about having girls over to his house. Who are these kids? My eleven year old doesn’t act like that. One month left before he starts middle school, I guess I better get used to this.

     So in a team of 22 kids, 16 have been doing this for multiple years. My kid is obviously green. My A-student, normally confidant, black-belt is looking not so confidant out there. Or competent. It was less than pretty. His foot work is clumsy, he has no balance, and he drops every ball thrown at him. I don’t care if my son is the best, or wins at everything, I  really don’t. But seeing him be the worst isn’t easy either. But don’t worry, I won’t tell him that. I am going to be supportive and encouraging and help him get better. This is the first day and he has nowhere to go but up. He will improve and learn and get stronger. I am already impressed with his coaches and believe in them. And if at the end of the season my son tells me he doesn’t enjoy football, I am completely fine with that. If he says he loves it and wants to play football every year, well, I guess we’ll be training year-round to catch up to these kids that have been playing since they were six. Am I still not worried about my kid being injured? Ha! I have changed my mind and am totally paranoid he will get hurt. Night 2 he twisted his knee and limped for two days. Night 4 he twisted his ankle. Nights 4 & 5 were their first practices in full pads in the 95 degree heat and he acted like he was going to pass-out from exhaustion. After a full week he’s admitting what he is good at and what he’s not good at. He told me it is a lot harder than karate. I think we are all being realistic now and we all have an even greater appreciation for how hard football is and how athletic football players are. But I am confidant my son will grow and improve greatly over this first season. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a new adventure for all of us.

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