This week, Nate came home with a flier from our town’s recreation department, advertising peewee soccer for three- and four-year-old kids. I spoke with the program director, explained our situation, and asked if we could try it out. While this peewee soccer program isn’t adaptive in any way, the guy said we should come on down and try it out. If we liked it, we could join. If we didn’t, we had no obligation to pay for the class.
Chad’s at school this weekend and, last night, I talked it over with him. Our fears: the kids would mow Nate down, Nate would mow other kids down, and Nate would obsessively hoard the soccer balls. (Circles are his favorite shape, after all.) I asked friends on Facebook about it, too. My friend Becky made me feel particularly good when she said her boy, who is neurotypical, spent his first day of soccer running up and down the field pretending to be Spiderman and shooting invisible webs. We can do this, people! Bright and early this morning, Nate and I put on our brave pants, jumped in the four-wheel-drive sleigh, and went to our town’s soccer field.
Apparently, people here are pros at this. Parents and grandparents showed up in droves. With chairs. And beverages. And cameras. I was proud that I shoved my iPhone in my pocket and remembered to put sneakers on both me and Nate. We walked into the field, past the baseball diamond made of (very tempting) dirt, and met the coach, who encouraged Nate to pick a soccer ball and start running around.
The soccer balls are wee – about half the size of a normal one – and Nate’s head nearly exploded at the prospect of being allowed to play with all of those balls and run on a giant field without holding someone’s hand. (It was fully enclosed so Nate couldn’t escape.) He had a blast running at top speeds, giggling at the wind in his hair, occasionally distracted by a flower-like weed.
When Coach Pat asked the kids to huddle up, there were about 25 kids. He asked everyone to holler out their names and ages. Coach Pat started first (“I’m 41!”) and I hollered out on behalf of Nate. Parents were encouraged to be on the field with their kids as much as was needed; Nate was not the only tot on the field being escorted by an adult!
We did some exercises and put one foot on top of the soccer ball and then the other, which I manually did for Nate. (Nate was very interested in what was going on.) Then the kids practiced kicking the ball. Kicking is a milestone Nate missed but today? Something kicked in – literally – and my boy started to kick a ball! They were little kicks but his foot swung back, went forward, and connected with the ball, which is HUGE! We practiced so much that, by the end of the exercise, Nate was imitating the word “kick!” every time I said it.
With the overarching goals of having fun, playing soccer, and becoming tired enough to take a nap (Thank you, Coach Pat!), the kids began a big game of Follow the Leader. When Coach Pat asked the kids if they knew this game, everyone roared yes — except for Nate. The first Follow the Leader was jogging – so I let Nate go to see what he would do. He ran mostly in circles but he had a blast. Nate couldn’t do the hopping or skipping that Coach Pat threw into Follow the Leader but, when Coach asked the kids to put a mini cone on their head, Nate complied…in his own way.
Then we played Red Light, Green Light. Again, all the kids knew this game and Nate did not. And for kicks, Coach Pat threw in a yellow light (because one kid hollered out, “WHAT ABOUT YELLOW!?!”). So the game became Green Light (run), Yellow Light (do a jumping jack), Red Light (STOP!). I helped Nate run, do a fake jumping jack (Nate can’t jump yet), and STOP!, which he repeated. And sure, when the kids were at the other end of the field, Nate was just 1/4 of the way down it — but he was handicapped by his mom and didn’t really seem to mind.
In the end, no kid pushed any other kid down, Nate did not hoard soccer balls, and my boy had a blast! Nate lasted forty out of the sixty minute session. I chatted with the other coach (Coach Pat’s brother) about how Nate did and he encouraged us to come back next week. So guess what, people? Nate’s a soccer player!