The ref blew the whistle, waved his hands, and with that, the game was done.

Not just the game, however. It was the end of the season. The spring season of my seven-year-old daughter’s Under-8 (or, as they say in soccer-speak “U8”) all-girls league had come to a close. This spring version of Maddo’s league was basically an addition to the regular league season she played in last fall. For $360, we got the standard season, plus this extra, eight-week, USFL-style spring extra.

Bearing Down On The ‘Keeper

(And 360 bucks? I’m still not sure what all of that paid for. The coaches were volunteers and we had bought Maddo’s uniform–a separate expense–over a year earlier, so maybe soccer balls really do cost more than I thought.)

We were told the spring soccer season wasn’t as serious or intense as the fall one, but you could have fooled me. Eight weeks of Thursday evening practices, plus the Saturday games. Games which definitely didn’t adhere to an NFL-rigid kickoff schedule. One game stated at 8:45 in the morning. Another was at 12:15. All the others were somewhere in between

And along with this strange set of kickoff times, another thing I’ve never quite grasped about soccer is the season’s structure. We just had eight weeks in the spring that picked up months after the eight games we played in the fall. It was like how they built up anticipation for “Mad Men’s” final go-round by splitting its last 16 episodes over two separate years. I look at the sports section, and it seems like it’s always right in the middle of a soccer season, no matter what time of year it is and no matter what league is playing. And then there are things like international “friendlies”, tournaments such as the Champions League, the Copa America, UEFA and, ultimately, the World Cup, which I pay attention to every four years because I always cheer for America.

But, with all the schedule shenanigans that came with every game, we still found a way to make it to field on time, every time. Well, we did on the days we showed up. Out of eight games, we missed one because we were out of town and  one because Maddo was busy throwing up. A third game was wiped off the schedule due to rain, and I’m pretty sure no parents complained about missing that one.

When this last game ended, I think the final score was something like 9-6. It could have been 6-4. Or 10-7. I lost track after the third quarter (and the third required water break) and besides, at this level of play, scores aren’t officially kept. But you can bet that parents do keep track of how many goals their kids score.

And Maddo didn’t score any this day. She’s pretty good at going after and handling the ball, but needs to work on turning the ball upfield and finishing with an actual shot on goal. She got a few shots into the net this season, but for the most part, she tries to dribble the ball all the way into the goal. This kind-of telegraphs her intentions and gives the opponents plenty of time to get into position to block her efforts.

The coaches do their best, but the girls still have a hard time grasping the concept of opening up the field and setting up plays. It also doesn’t help that most of the girls on her team play soccer pretty much like how you would expect a bunch of 7-year-olds would play the game. Once one girl has the ball, about half the team converges upon her like a swarm of bees attacking an open watermelon at a picnic. The other half stands still or does cartwheels away from the ball. Every once in a while, someone will get loose and you’d think Diego Maradona was flying through England’s defense in that 1986 World Cup game.

And then the shot goes wide of the goal. Maradona, these girls are not. Yet, anyway.

We now have a break for a few months, and I hope to get Maddo out and about on the local pitch this summer. School’s out and the number of weekend birthday parties should be few and far between. We just need to get her shots pointed in the right direction and cut down on the cartwheels. At this stage of her career, practice can only help.

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