Today, I had the privilege of watching my boy choose to be a man. As many know, our son Johnny was invited to try out for travel soccer this year. He made the team, was granted a scholarship, and our lives are now saturated with soccer commitments. To my complete surprise, I found out at the first tournament that the coach splits the team into two teams for games: the Gold Team and the White Team. Apparently, this is completely normal and everyone we play is divided similarly. Our coach explained that he decides the teams each week based on the player’s effort, but also on focus, assertiveness, and skill. To our relief, Johnny made the Gold Team for the first tournament of the season.
After a few weeks of no changes to the teams, Johnny went to a practice where he was told by two teammates that he was no longer on the Gold Team and that he was never meant to be in the first place. The teammates claimed there had been a mistake and one of them were always supposed to be Gold instead of Johnny. He came home concerned and inquired if this was true. I told him they were full of it and to ignore them. The next day, the dreaded email came that confirmed Johnny had been moved to the White Team and the only other switch was the boy who’d given him a hard time the day prior.
I’ll be honest, I wanted to lose it, to scream at the kids and their parents for hurting my child. I asked Jesus for wisdom instead. I contacted the coach calmly and explained the situation. He handled it wonderfully and apologized, acknowledging that Johnny should have heard about the change from him, not boys of the parent who helps schedule tournaments. I appreciated the coach’s intentionality in dealing with the situation but I still hurt for my son. Not only was he dealing with his first demotion, but was bullied in the process, by his own teammates. Brett and I have extended love and forgiveness while entrusting our son’s heart to Jesus. These big feelings may sound extreme to some over some simple soccer, but for anyone who has watched your child hurt over disappointment and intentional bullying, you know it is easier said than done to remain kind and calm.
Today, as we prepared for some late afternoon games, the weekly email came out with the teams for the day. To our pure delight, we listened as we let Johnny read the roster out loud and discover he was again on the Gold Team. His hard work and patience paid off. We were so excited for him, I even cried as he celebrated. I drove him to the fields and dropped him off to warm up. Once it was game time, I pushed the stroller to the fields and to my total shock, found Johnny on the field with the White Team, ready for kick-off. I was confused and a little concerned, but when he saw me approaching he waved with a big smile and I felt assured he was okay so whatever the change was about was okay too. As he does every week, Johnny gave it his all and enjoyed every minute of the game. They lost, 1-0, but when it ended Johnny came running over with a smile. I asked him what was up and with that famous Johnny joy, he explained that as warm ups ended, the coach explained that the White Team was short two players and asked if anyone from the Gold Team would volunteer to help out and play for White today. Without hesitation, Johnny raised his hand and said he’d be happy to help.
My son, who turned eight years old this month, gave up the very spot he’s worked hard to earn, recognizing the team is more important than himself. Johnny’s words were, “they needed help, so I helped.” The coach and other parents filled me in later on how it all went down. The coach honored Johnny at the end and told us that today, Johnny set a tone for the entire team. After Johnny offered to switch, the coach said many of the other players caught on and said they’d switch too if needed. The same parents I felt hurt my son earlier this season, pulled me aside after the game telling me what an incredible young man he is and thanked him for being a leader. I told Johnny that while I am proud of him no matter what, this is truly his finest moment on the field yet. Today, I watched my boy choose to be a man as he surrendered his earned spot of prestige to help his team however is needed. I hope that as I grow and mature, I find myself looking more like Johnny and all his selfless joy every day.