I've had it with community soccer associations.

My son and I joined one this year, but I soon realized that my son didn't quite get it. He's 6 years old, and he gets distracted. He picks up blades of grass and studies them. He peers through the goal net from the backside, thinking how neat it would be if he could shrink to fit through the little squares.

On one cold fall morning as his teammates obediently chased the polyhedron, my son was in a corner of the field, twisting a vermilion leaf between his fingers and reciting a poem to it, deaf to my embarrassed cries for him to "Pay attention!" to the overwrought coach.

My son wants to play soccer. He understands the rules and object of the game and can recite them in the abstract. But he falters in the execution. He tells me, apologetically, "It's hard to stop myself, dad, from thinking about other things."

He also gets the heart of the matter: How it's important to finish something you've started, to attend each practice and game, to listen to what the coach says and try your best. By this measure he may well be the finest player on his team.

But others don't see it that way. Another boy, not a member of the team, showed up at a recent game, active and attentive and anxious to play. The coaches substituted him for my son. Eventually, my son was put back in the game, but within a minute, the net and its incredible "shrinking squares" proved irresistible to him.

The coach turned to me in exasperation. "He wants to play," she said, pointing to the boy who was not a member of our team, who had not participated in any of the practices, an interloper who fit the coach's management goals for 6-year-olds (in this game where scoring is not supposed to count) And my son, who has attended every practice without fault, was ousted.

The coach may see my son as someone who is not pulling his weight. But I know this is not the case. In the parlance of sports, his problem with "focus" is not indicative of how hard he's trying. He has better days and worse days, but he always tries. He also was aware that something unfair had just happened.

At the sidelines we talked about what had happened and decided to leave. But understanding, as my son did from the beginning, that trying is what really matters, we were back for next game, the last of the season, finishing what we started together.

And now we are free to turn to leaves and poems and enjoy the fall the way it ought to be enjoyed.

--Paul A. Guss