In this big wide world, there was once a little boy who was crippled with shyness all the early years of his life. While his friends were climbing trees and playing on swings, this little boy would cry behind my legs, with an intense fear of being social. In later years, it would be suggested at school that we seek outside help for his confidence issue.
But, he loved kicking balls. Just as he was about to walk for the first time, he swung his leg forward and kicked a ball – then took a step. We took him to a kid’s sports class, in the hope that if he was kicking the ball he would forget he was in a social situation. Slowly we got there.
Every single afternoon since he could walk, he has been out in the backyard, kicking that ball.
As he grew older, he began to play lunchtime soccer at school. His confidence took a sudden leap. His personality shone through, and the kids at school saw he was funny and clever, just as we have always known. He made a good circle of friends and laughed all the time.
He worked his way up to one of the top soccer teams for his local club. He practised and did more training, and made up soccer games if there were enough kids hanging around: Wherever he could, he kicked that ball. The praise was constant. Another club wanted him for their top team. This year, his plan was to play for his school – that is all he talked about. I was proud of him for striving so confidently toward a goal. Of not being frightened anymore.
But, as I looked at him when he got in the car on the afternoon of the trials, all I could see was sadness and shame. He did not get in to the school team.
Later, he sobbed, something boys his age try not to do. And so did I. I felt like I was losing the young man who had worked so hard toward living a simple life of childhood joy. All those years of self-confidence was being poured into a tissue. Shame is an emotion no child should have to bare.
The only way to take this, was as a lesson. We made it as black and white as possible – he is a good soccer player, and he should not doubt that. We wrote down all the things which told us he was a good soccer player. He remembered the specific words of coaches, and parents, and friends. We talked about how he could use this lesson to make him strive harder to attain the next level up in his soccer. And how this, was unfortunately just one of those things.
After he’d wiped away his tears for the last time, he looked at me and said: “Mum, I just wanted to play more soccer.”
I thought, am I looking at this in the wrong way?
The point seemed to be not that his self-confidence was smashed. Of course, being good at soccer gives him self-confidence. And yes, he was embarrassed in front of his friends when his name was not called out for the team.
But, he was showing himself as strong enough to not place lingering importance on that feeling. He was being brave enough to let it pass, to not give shame any of his precious time. To know that his friends still thought he was funny and clever. That this was just one of those things. And he could wallow, or he could get on with finding some other way of playing more soccer.
Because he loves playing soccer. And when you do something you love, you want to be the best at it. And, setbacks can be good, because they can make you realise that it really does matter to you that you play more soccer – get better at it, learn more, immerse yourself more in something that gives your life passion and lots of big fat oomph!
It left me asking if my own passion for writing and this journey toward being a fabulous authoress is as impenetrable as my son’s is for soccer. Can I kick these hurdles in the backside like my nine year old has just done? Can I be that grown up? Can I be that fearless in the face of inevitable criticism?
The next day my beautiful, brave boy wrote some words for a debate. “I love school more than holidays because I get to play soccer with my friends, and I also get to try harder at my soccer at lunchtimes so I will get into the school team next year.”
He said it front of his whole year.