Monday afternoon, I gave Victoria permission to quit soccer in the very last week of the season. It was not the first time I told her she could quit. Indeed, I had been telling her to practically from the beginning.
I know our society has done a really good job of teaching us all that we have to raise children who will stick it out no matter what, endure the unpleasant, keep going. It doesn’t matter if you hate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s something that will serve no purpose in your life. There is a nobility in carrying on.
Victoria dearly loves the sport of soccer. She loves her coach. She loves to scrimmage. And she would get so stressed out before practice that she would end up with a stomach ache and often cry. She never asked to quit. She didn’t believe in it. She just carried on, miserable.
My girls both played soccer through the school league a few summers ago and loved it. They were on the same team and had a sweet coach and neat teammates. The next year, Victoria was on her own and once again had a ball. Last year, we missed the deadline to sign up. This year, she’s on the team with the 5th to 8th graders (she’s 5th grade) and it’s a whole different world.
She is one of only two 5th graders and she is the smallest kid on the team. Not only that, but she is the only homeschooler and she didn’t know many of the other kids. A few of the kids viewed her as an easy target.
At the first practice, a few of the boys were obnoxious to her. She ignored them and concentrated on playing soccer. After a few practices, most of the kids stopped picking on her except one. That kid and some of his cronies kept on. And on. And on.
This boy would make nasty comments to her every single practice, over and over again. She didn’t usually tell me. She wanted to tough it out. She mentioned it enough that I knew he was not stopping, though.
It wasn’t just the bully that made her miserable, though. It was the fact that the other kids on the team never did accept her. She was alone. She was an outcast. She is used to making friends easily and being a bit of a leader. She was also much smaller and had much less soccer experience. With these older, bigger, ruder kids she was just some little kid who couldn’t kick hard.
Victoria has always loved soccer but it wasn’t long before she nearly got a panic attack each afternoon of soccer practice. And so I told her it was okay to quit. I encouraged it, even.
I was one of those kids who was forced to "tough it out" in numerous things over the years and I never felt particularly proud or happy afterwards that I’d endured it to the end. I was just glad it was finally over.
I see the merit in sticking things out — and certainly in at least giving them a real shot. I wouldn’t encourage my kids to quit something after one day, but after weeks of misery? Go for it!
Monday afternoon, my little girl was once more in tears over going to soccer practice. It’s the last week of practice before the tournament tomorrow. The last practice! And she was a mess.
I told her it was up to her, but if she wanted to play in the tournament she’d have to go to practice. I told her I didn’t care in the least if she quit, and I wouldn’t lose any respect for her.
She said she’d never be able to face anybody if she quit. She said she’d be weak. She said she thought she was going to be sick.
And so I told her about the time I got to quit violin lessons and the gifted club. I told her what a relief it was, and how I never regretted it. I told her if she wanted to quit she should quit.
And so she quit, on the very last day of practice. She looked like 100 pounds of weight was off her shoulders.
I walked across the street to the field where the team was practicing and returned a ball the coach had lent her. I told him she wouldn’t be at the tournament, and why. He said he’d suspected that kid was picking on her but he wished he’d known the extent of it. He also said she was one of his most improved players and one of his toughest because she’s one of the few that’s not afraid of the ball. He said he’d keep her name on the roster Friday night for the tournament and hoped she’d finish it out.
I went back and told Victoria all that he’d said. I told her again that it was okay either way. I told her it wasn’t too late to suit up and join practice if she changed her mind.
She rushed into her outfit and gathered all her supplies, and we ran out for her to join practice after all…. Just in time for the team to be going home. The coach told us the players had annoyed him so much he sent them home early. We told him we’d practice on our own then and she told him she’d be at the tournament.
One of the kids hollered something out to her, even with me right there. I hollered back.
Anna, Jack, Alex and I did our best to help Victoria practice soccer. It was a bit of a train wreck (Jack got hit in the arm by the ball and cried, Anna eventually refused to play anything but goalie or take her bike helmet off, and Alex mostly tried to push a stroller onto the field) but it was perfect to me. Her siblings were supporting her in a way that her teammates never had, and she was practicing in front of the last of them without caring in the least what they thought of her.