There is only one youth sport in Spain. Kids play soccer. I was out for a run one day in Puerto Mogan, and saw a group of young kids practicing inside the town stadium. They looked not much bigger than Alexander, but they played like they were in their teens.
I walked to the side of the field and talked to some of the parents. The kids were eight and older, they said. I was steered toward a fellow who was the administrator for the field. Is this practice? A team? Is there practice for younger kids? (There was not.) We are here for a while, I said. Could my five year-old son join in? “Por supuesto! Venga! Venga!” How much is it? “Hombre! Es Gratis!”
So we did come. Alexander suited up in his Galatasaray uniform, and charged out onto the field.
And he kept on charging. A bump here and a bump there. He took a throw-in, and dutifully caught it with both hands. The coach wasn’t as pleased as Alexander seemed to be.
But the other kids treated him like gold. Helping him out. Teaching him Spanish. By the third practice, one of the other kids had given him a complete local uniform, and he had started to catch on a bit. And he seemed to be having some fun.
But his fun didn’t always match with the coach’s ideal of a good practice. (What could possibly be wrong with rolling off a few somersaults while waiting in line?!)
So it wasn’t quite right for Alexander. These kids had skills beyond their years. Some of them (and more of their parents) have aspirations that they will one day play for Real Madrid, or at least UD Las Palmas.
Practices are serious business. (The coach unceremoniously cut one session short and sent the kids home because he didn’t think that they were sufficiently “focused.”) Take that, young men. I don’t think that one can necessarily say that this approach is wrong, especially at this talent level. And these kids really love the game, having been playing since they could walk. Alexander, on the other hand, needs to develop that love first before attending soccer boot camp. Or maybe he’ll not take to it at all.
We’ve stopped going for now. We go to the park sometimes to play and work on our skills independently, and sometimes meet some of the other kids there. At five years old, there has to be time for doing mid-practice somersaults, and chasing his sister about. After all, as Allen Iverson once famously observed, “Practice, man. We’re talking ’bout practice. I mean, how silly is that?”