Will the son rise? The true answer is nobody knows
Being parents of a talented young sportsperson can prove a rollercoaster of emotion
Even at the age our son is, 12, soccer at the elite level here is physically demanding, but the mental demands are of another order altogether.
For some time my wife and I have been on a journey familiar to those with sports-mad children.
Our particular odyssey is being shaped more and more by the fact that our son is a talented soccer player. He plays in the Premier Division of the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL) in his age group.
It’s tough out there.
Unlike with your local GAA club, where you are usually tied for life, once you start moving soccer clubs, in search of higher achievement or challenges, it is an eye-opener.
The biggest and most storied DDSL teams can pick and chose the best – and that can mean the “almost-best” are sucked in and spat out without much ceremony.
Our son left his home town club at the end of last season and we chose his new club carefully. Not too far away geographically, they are newly promoted and the facilities are excellent. But we also liked the vibes from the coaching staff when they approached us, looking to sign our boy, and we let him train a few times up there before making a final decision.
So far it’s going extremely well. He’s a happy boy, loving his team-mates and loving his football.
That is what it is supposed to be all about, remember?
It’s been a fascinating ride up to this point, full of adventure and excitement, but it has also given our son – and us – plenty of disappointments. And yes, there have been tears, tantrums and tirades, and some eye-opening encounters with others on a similar odyssey – coaches, other parents and kids. Rivalries, jealousies, camaraderies of convenience, and friendships, real and apparent.
And some less than edifying reactions from yours truly at certain moments – including not quite muttered admonishments of my son, who plays at left centre back, when he makes a mistake; red-faced anger at poor refereeing decisions in the other team’s favour; and seething discomfort as a coach or rival parent berates our boy’s tackle that brings down an opponent.
I try to put my frustrations away quickly, but sometimes, it’s all just so intense.
And we are there on the sideline, my wife and I, helplessly engrossed as our little man goes on the field of dreams alone, armed with nothing but his talent, determination and ferocious will to make that tackle, pick out that pass, make that header, exhorts his team-mates, and try to set up a score, or put one away himself . . . and win, naturally.
It is so hard out there – our little guy, who is not particularly tall, or muscular, using every little bit of everything he has to hold out that stronger, bigger opponent, or get that last-ditch stretching toe to the ball to deprive the striker bearing down on goal.
Talent will only take you so far; at this high-end level, ability is commonplace; you have to have that indefinable something that is also obvious when you have it in abundance.
How good is he? How good will he be? We don’t know yet. He has been able to meet the challenges, and even thrive, at every new level he has reached, but he might plateau, and slump at this one, or it could all end with a bad injury. Or a key coach might not rate him. Freeze him out.
Already at this age, we have encountered plenty of talented kids who already have a scary number of club moves made.
Our boy might have the luck he will also need, but he will have to meet that good fortune halfway and build on it.
This environment is harsh and unforgiving, but it is also filled with high drama and daring deeds of passionate intensity.
It’s even fun at times.
He might soar or he might burn and plummet. We might get to hold his jacket as he runs on to glory or we might have to help him deal with shattered dreams at such a young age.
Or at least help him to recognise the noble satisfaction of having given it his best shot, and eventually accept his limitations. And he can continue to play soccer for fun and exercise.
It’s exhilarating for us, the proud Mom and Dad, when he makes that fantastic tackle, and gut-wrenching when that sweeping pass across to the full back is intercepted and eventually leads to conceding a goal.
He has learned to lose, graciously for the most part, but dare the referee get a major decision wrong . . .
Even at the age our son is, 12, soccer at the elite level here is physically demanding, and the smallest lapse in judgment or heavy touch can be punished severely, but the mental demands are quite frankly of another order altogether.
He loves it, lives it, breathes it, and the lines between practice, learning and pleasure are utterly blurred for him; despite our admonishments his door is always opened before the car has fully stopped as he rushes to the dressing-room on training nights.
So far, so marvellous.
But you never know what’s around the corner.