As my son and I walked toward the field where his Jaguars were to play, he asked all the normal questions: “When will I play striker? Who do we play? How many on our team are coming?”
When he heard that we had no subs for our 7v7 game, he raised his eyebrows in response. It was nearly 80 degrees, a warm day for May 2nd, made even hotter by the masks that we were wearing.
The boys were a little squirrely (as nine year olds are) while warming up. Half of their team wasn’t here, so it was clear that game time did not seem imminent to them.
When I called them to the huddle for positions, they looked confused. “Where is everyone?” At that moment, our sixth player showed up. As they greeted him, I saw their eyes scan to the other team, and just how many of them there were. Their three subs were definitely in attendance. The confusion turned to nerves.
“But it’s not fair! They can’t play seven if we only have six!”
“Guys, it’s a 7v7 game. If you want the game to go on, we play one player down.” Suddenly, the Jaguars weren’t so squirrely.
They took their positions, and we won the coin toss. Or rather, the rock-paper-scissors, as a dad was stepping in because we had no official referee.
The first quarter was pretty even. Both sides got a little pushy, the other team had a real sass mouth who argued every call, and in the end: a goal where we had none.
Our Jaguars came off the field panting, and looking very defeated. The injustice of the one-player-down was repeatedly mentioned.
“Guys, I know you’re bummed, but we’re only losing 1-0, and we’re a player down, while they have three subs. You guys are working so hard out there!”
I asked the coaches from the opposing team, and they graciously let me “borrow” a kid from yet another team to play goalie.
By halftime, we were still down by one, the boys were gassed, and an official referee had shown up. He quickly squashed the borrowing-a-goalie strategy.
I squinted down at the goal. I knew that my Jaguars’ defensive skills outweighed their offensive ones. I also knew that keeping someone in goal was wasting a good pair of running legs.
“Ok, guys. We’re going to do something crazy, but hear me out: we’re going to play with no goalie.”
They all erupted with the same “WHAT?!”
“Look, if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it, but we’re going to play a stopper. The stopper is the last line of defense and is not going to leave the 18 yard box. We’ll switch out the stopper every few minutes. If we’re going to lose, we’re going to play our hardest with ALL of us running the field.”
They looked at each other hesitantly, but slowly walked to their assigned spots. When they were all in position, the referee called out, “Coach, do you have a goalie?”
“No goalie,” I replied firmly. I could feel the eyes from the opposing coaches on me. I looked straight ahead, feigning confidence, but seriously questioning the decision I had just made.
The second half began, and we soon scored! The Jaguars perked up a bit. They jogged a little taller back to center field for the kickoff. We switched our stopper, who all too eagerly took a new position.
The opposing team scored. But our first goal had lit a fire. Where the other team’s first quarter goal deflated the boys, they now looked even more determined. More of them starting running back on defense when the opposing team crossed center field, as if they all had this beacon reminding them, “There’s no goalie back there!”
We scored our second goal! Now tied 2-2 at the end of the third quarter, the boys began murmuring about the “mean kid” on the other team talking down to his fellow players. We were getting to them.
Halfway through the final quarter, my son kicked the ball through a defender’s legs, past the goalie, and into the goal! I resisted the urge to scream, jump up and down, and run onto the field. I clapped so hard the palms of my hands hurt as the Jaguars ran back into position.
The rest of the quarter was a nail biter, with the opposing team too close to our goal for comfort, resulting in many corner kicks and unsuccessful attempts on goal by them.
Sass Mouth gave one of my boys his final jab and then mocked him by flopping his body on the field in exaggeration while he grabbed his own arm. The only thing more disappointing than watching that was that his coaches did nothing to correct him.
Soon after that penalty kick, we heard the sweet sound of the ref’s whistle, signifying the end of the game and our 3-2 WIN!!! Because it’s Covid, we didn’t “good game” the other team, which seemed more than fine to the Jaguars.
As they gathered around me, I was absolutely beaming beneath my mask. They were panting and sweaty, but I could see their smiles, too.
“You. Guys.” I started, “I may look calm on the outside, but on the inside, I’m screaming. I am SO PROUD of you! If we win 10-1 next week, I won’t be prouder than I am right now.”
On the car ride home, my oldest asked all of his normal questions: “What’s our record? How many more games do we have? Who do we play next week?”
After I answered his questions, he was silent for a moment. Then he spoke up again: “Mommy- you know what? I’m glad that we were a player down today. We wouldn’t have played as hard if more teammates had shown up. And it wouldn’t have felt as good to win!”
“No, buddy. No it wouldn’t.”