I had to take yesterday off…I was tired.
It was Mid-August of 2012. My family and I were at our church’s annual picnic at Eisenhower Park in Long Island and it was coming to a close. Earlier in the day I got a concussion by hitting the back of my head on a low-sitting tree that I was laying under. I was taking it easy sitting at a park bench and Cydney wasn’t too far from me. I stood up and played around with her and there was a ball nearby. Cydney had either just turned or was about to be eighteen months. Cydney looked at the ball and started kicking it. She was dribbling and doing well for someone who didn’t know what they were doing and she was eighteen months. In my concussed state of mind I noticed and thought that this is something that I should pay attention to.
Every once in a while I would take Cydney into the backyard and kick the ball around. I have very little knowledge about soccer. I played in an afterschool program at the YMCA, we wore whatever red t-shirts we could find from our respective homes as our uniform, and we sucked. That was it. I saw a natural ability in Cydney and as much as I could I wanted to cultivate it. When she was of age I would begin to enroll her into soccer programs and I would become a soccer dad.
Cydney was three years old when she was first enrolled in a soccer program. The girls she was playing with and against were in Pre-K; so they were mostly four turning five. Clearly she was the little one but she loved being there. The first half of her session would be instructional: the coaches would introduce drills to the children in fun little ways. The second half of the session would be a five on five scrimmages. Cydney wasn’t too crazy about this part. She was enthusiastic at first; but eventually became indifferent and then discouraged. Since she was the little person on the team she wasn’t as fast as the other girls. She would begin to sulk saying “I’m not fast enough.” That broke my heart. As soon as it was over, Cydney would exclaim “We won!” as if she hadn’t been feeling a certain way previously. Cydney was happy and I wasn’t going to let her quit, anyway. She may not have liked being the slow one but she loved being out there.
It felt weird being out there. The program was in an affluent neighborhood in Nassau County. Everyone was a good ten years older than me. Of course, everyone was white and knew each other. It was obvious that the black child, her black father, and the one black coach knew each other. I always felt weird because I didn’t have a lot in common with these people. In reality, I did. I was a suburban parent and my life revolved around my kid than it did going out and/or gallivanting in the city like most of my friends my age. Being that I was much younger, darker, and didn’t dress like suburban white dads-you know: the plain shorts, sneakers, and polo shirt or something-I just didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t talk to any of the parents except the coaches of Cydney’s team.
Over the course of the summer Cydney and I would practice the drills she learned in the yard. We watched the World Cup and she has a replica ball that she sleeps with. I looked up drills on YouTube and practice when I am by myself so that I can teach her. Hip hop is my thing that she’s getting into and Disney Princesses are her world that I am getting into. Soccer is the thing in which we are on equal footing and learning together. Eventually she will be much better than I and I will enjoy watching her from the sidelines.
In September 2014 I signed Cydney up for the program that was closer to our house. That program wasn’t much of a challenge for her and she would find ways challenge herself. If her coaches ask the children to knock cones over by kicking the ball, Cydney would do so from a few feet back as opposed to right on top of the ball. Cydney weaves throughout cones during drills effortlessly while the other toddlers still stop the ball with their hands sometimes.
During their first scrimmage, Cydney stole the ball from one of the kids, dribbled down the field and scored the goal. Cydney’s coach pulled me aside and said that he was impressed by Cydney’s skill set. He told me how impressed he was with that and that she makes the other children better. He’s a black man and he said that as the only person of color and the only girl out there he enjoys having her around. Ever since, he has found ways to train her and make things a little more challenging. One week, Cydney’s scrimmage was four-on-one: Cydney vs. the other kids with a little assistance from her coach. In a fifteen minute game the score was 2-1 and Cydney won. That’s my girl.
Cydney has improved drastically in this amount of time. One time we were out playing at a field near our house and Cydney saw another father practicing with his little girl, who was about seven years old. Cydney went up to them, asked if she could join, and did drill right along with the girl. Cydney at three was doing them just as good as she was. This was my goal of having Cydney play with the children older than her. My first experience playing organized basketball at seven years old was with playing alongside ten year old teammates and opponents. It made me one of the better players at my age and this is what I wanted for Cydney as her foundation. It may have been hard at first, but eventually she would catch on and play up the level of the other girls. Knowing who she is and who her father is she would surpass these girls as well.
She may not play forever; but this is about Cydney starting something young and introducing herself to a discipline. The whole thing was to set up a foundation. She is into something and if she has other hobbies she will have the behavioral process of giving something her all, practicing, working on being the best that she possibly can be, and she started this high level of commitment at her age.
She is currently playing soccer twice a day on Saturdays. In one program, she plays along with some children in kindergarten and first grade. From a technical standpoint, she is leaps and bounds above everyone.
…Spelman College: you have approximately fourteen years to bring back your soccer program. Cydney and I will make it worth your while.