There are, I have concluded after extensive research, soccer families, baseball families, football families, swimming families and some families who do some of each. Little brothers emulate big brothers and cycles get started and before you know it you have mini-dynasties going, as in: "All the Smith children are terrific soccer (or fill in the blank) players."
Thus it was that my son the 10-year-old started playing soccer when he was 6 (his brother the goalie, by then, was playing in high school) and a few years later, their sister the 6-year-old signed up for her first season. Both had spent hours of their toddler-hood on the sidelines of soccer games and the presumption was that they'd picked up a little of the idea through osmosis. Lesson No. 1 turned out to be that you can't depend on osmosis.
My daughter's debut on the playing fields of McLean was memorable. Her coach started her at fullback. He emphasized the importance of staying in one's position.
My daughter is a very literal person.
The ball came back to her and passed a few feet away from where she was standing.
She did not move.
My son the college student, sitting on the sidelines, put his head in his hands. He said: "I don't believe what just happened."
That was last fall.
There are always a couple of little children who know what they are doing and the rest of them have to get the hang of it. While my daughter was trying to get the hang of it, I was trying to remember whether the boys had been any better at that stage. I knew one thing for sure, which was that they had not skipped across the field. The season ended with my daughter talking retirement. It ended with me talking about the merits of girls participating in team sports.
The discussion ended in a draw, which goes to the parent. I signed her up for spring soccer and she agreed to play one more season.
There's a certain amount of pathfinding being done on the part of parents who encourage girls to participate in team sports. There's not a whole lot of practical literature available yet on the business of unisex child rearing, so you are often left wondering whether a child is doing something because that's what girls (or boys) do or because it is simply her nature, or whether there are external influences that are stereotyping her into certain behavior.
A friend, whose daughter is 13 and a good soccer player, believes that girls come into their own once they start playing with other girls. Her theory is that a lot of the coaches have lower expectations for the girls, thus they play them at fullback and the girls never have the chance to develop all their abilities. Also, she says, they get bored.
Our coach, however, believes in rotating players. As the spring season progressed, more and more of the 6-year-olds were getting the hang of the game. More stars emerged. No girls had scored. My hopes of keeping my daughter involved in a team sport -- one of the cornerstones of my child-rearing theories -- were disappearing.
"I'm not going to play next fall," she announced on the way home from a recent practice. "Soccer is boring and besides, girls don't play soccer." To which I gave her a list of girls she knows who play, including three who played all the way through college. "I don't care," she answered. "I'm not going to play next fall. I want to do gymnastics."
My son the college student paid a surprise visit home that weekend and went to her game. About 10 minutes into it, he said: "Gymnastics."
Soccer registration came and went and I did not sign her up. I was going against the tide.
Last Saturday she played fullback the first quarter and sat out the second. The coach started her at forward at the beginning of the second half. In a tied game. At one point, I simply covered my eyes. On the bright side of things was the fact that I wouldn't be going to two soccer games every weekend next fall.
A couple of minutes later, however, one of my daughter's teammates kicked the ball across to the center of the field, about five yards out of the goal.
My daughter was there.
My daughter kicked the ball. It went up in the air. It came down on the ground. It went into the goal. The crowd went wild.
The smile on her face could have lit up a night game.
She sat out the final quarter and came over to sit with us. She accepted all sorts of congratulations and hugs. Then her brother said, "So, Katherine, do you want to play soccer next fall?"
To which she replied happily, "Yes, I'll do soccer and gymnastics. I am going to play soccer next fall."