Sunday, October 22, 2006

James and the Giant Pr*ck

by B. Strong

Saturday afternoon found us in a park, watching some 7-8 year old boys* play league soccer. For the most part, the kids looked like they were having fun. (Well, one of the goalies broke into tears when a corner kick from the opposing team hooked beautifully and expertly into the top part of his net. He perked up when his coach assured him that he needed to grow three feet taller before he could hope to prevent a goal like that, which was true enough.)

Except James. Now, I don't know James, but he looked like a classic bookworm: toothpick legs, shorts hiked up to near grandfatherly location around his waist, uncoordinated, a slow runner, and not terribly assertive. The expression on his face alternated between fear (when it looked like the ball might come toward him), sheer terror (when the ball was coming toward him), and outright dejection (when he missed it).

James just sort of trailed around after the ball, or more accurately after the pack of kids surrounding the ball. If the ball happened to squirt out of the pack in James' direction, he'd take a tentative kick at it. As often as not, the ball would continue on its former trajectory undisturbed.

Cut to James' dad, who had the look of an ex-lineman about him: big, burly, but losing the battle against age and flab. He was on crutches, but this didn't stop him from pacing up and down the sidelines to berate his son.
"Don't just stand there, James;"
"C'mon, you let it get right by you, James;"
"Don't be so slow, James;"
"Stop messing around, James;"
"Why'd you let that scrawny kid beat you, James;"
"Get your head in the game, James."

And, of course, the more the father yelled, the more dejected James looked and the slower he trailed after the ball-pack.

The coach seemed perfectly willing to ignore James' dad, although I did notice that he'd praise James for little things (e.g., making contact with the ball) more often than he did with the other kids. The little old lady in the lawn chair next to us -- a grandmotherly type, who knitted through the entire game -- had a better solution: "someone ought to accidently knock that guy over and break his other leg."

Indeed.

*I was surprised that by age 7 or 8, soccer leagues are already gender-typed. Is this usual?
Comments:
Yes. The split happens at first grade here.

The difference between a late-born second grade male and an early-born first grade female can be significant poundage (in both senses of that word).
 
If this is the justification, why don't we divide our leagues by poundage? It's nearly as easy as gender, and much more accurate in terms of sorting on ability or fragility or whatever poundage is supposed to capture.

(Yes, this is a rhetorical question: I think I know the answer to the question, and it has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with sociology.)
 
I'm under the impression that here in PC-central, there are mixed "recreational" leagues that go beyond 1st grade or so. But John's too young for me to know for sure.

The poundage rationale isn't totally essential. During my senior year of high school, a frosh girl played on the boys' JV team. Of course, that being 20+ years ago when soccer was still picking up steam as a mainstream elementary school sport (vs. American football), it wasn't so much of a draw for the athletic students.

So, in addition to the sociological factors Kim alludes to, an "economic" one is that expansion of the soccer market may, in fact, lead to greater specialization into gender-specific competitions.
 
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