World Cup, playground style

I’ve watched several World Cup games over the last couple weeks, and the boys have barely taken notice of the tiny men running around the great green field on TV, as a mass of mosquitoes seems to hum in the background.

But yesterday they were stopped in their tracks by the sight of a gang of young boys, the oldest barely 14 or so, playing some sort of playground soccer hybrid on the lawn of the private swim club we often walk by. All of them were barefoot and tanned, their ridiculously long board shorts somehow staying wrapped around impossibly skinny waists.


I could have stood there for a half-hour and not figured out the rules, though I’m sure any 10-year-old who stepped in instinctively knew how to play. I do know they were playing a game inspired by the World Cup, because every player was a country (which further confused me, since why would you kick the ball to another country?).

“Netherlands! Over here!” 

“Hey guys, we just lost two Italys.”

“Yes! Brazil scores!”

Kostyn and Evan stood on the other side of the fence transfixed by the kicking, the scrambling, the high-fiving. Twice the ball sailed over the chain links and they asked if we’d get it. Kostyn ran to that ball with a seriousness of purpose I’ve rarely seen, and when he heaved it back to them they actually thanked him, and waved to Evan, before resuming play. Kostyn didn’t so much as crack a smile; he was too engrossed in studying this future version of himself.


 I saw it too. I saw several years ahead of us right there before me, the time when my boys have their own board shorts and shaggy haircuts. When they’re old enough to be alone with their friends; to play simple-yet-complicated playground games; to be part of a team. When they’re big enough to pass, and score, and win. And lose.

These boys were not aggressive or foul-mouthed; they were friendly, polite and positive. They all went wild when the smallest among them scored.

I smiled, imagining the future and hoping it will look like this — especially when they welcomed the lone girl who wandered over. She, too, was impossibly skinny in her little bikini, and her long brown hair hung in tangles down her back as they asked who she wanted to be.

“Is USA taken?” she asked.

“No, nobody’s USA,” they answered.

There were a few mumbled rules and vague pointing toward the imaginary net at the fence where my boys were standing, waiting.

Then, “She’s USA!” one boy called out as the mad scramble began again.

I gave Kostyn and Evan a few more moments before I shuffled them on down the road, hoping all the lessons they had just soaked in will stick. Because someday when they’re playing a pick-up game with their pals, all without shoes and cares and adult supervision, I hope they remember to thank the wide-eyed 3-year-old who fetches their lost ball.

(And they sure as hell better welcome the little girl who asks to play, too. Go USA!)


Dee said...


Robyn said...

Thanks Dee! I'll bet reading it brought back a few memories of watching your skinny boys (and girl!) playing soccer with a gang of friends. :)