Rookie of rookies

My nephdude Abe plays on a four (years old) and under soccer team. Last week, his coach placed two younger players in front of the goal to set them up to score.

A teammate kicked the ball toward the intended recipients. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles leaned forward in anticipation. 

Just as the ball veered within their reach, one of the two players lifted his arms—airplane style—and took off. The boy flew away from the goal, weaving around his teammates and opponents, his winged-arms dipping up and down. 

The remaining player stood smiling as the ball rolled by.

Some of life’s most entertaining moments come by way of these rookies of rookies in all sports.

If you’ve never seen a tee-ball game, you should. Of the two teams of children aged six and under, two—maybe—attempt to play baseball. 

One is the player standing at the plate, bat in hand. The other is her opponent—the lone player who is down and ready, punching his fist into his mitt.

The batter makes contact with the ball. Mr. Down and Ready chases the ball. 

The remaining players?

The third baseman tosses his hat in the air and tries to catch it—over and over. The outfielder in right is picking dandelions. The centerfielder is flat on his back, waving his arms and legs back and forth across the grass—angel-making. 

In the dugout, a little girl upends her water bottle over a boy’s head. Another player leans into the chainlink fence and presses his nose and tongue through the diamond-shaped holes. 

Their teammates sit on the ground making dirt-castles and drawing pictures in the sandy soil with their index fingers.

Meanwhile, the coaches run around, shouting things like, “Teddy, you’re up! Teddy? Where’s Teddy?” and “Watch the ball, Sara. It’s going to come right to you.”

And the ball does go right to and past Sara. It comes to a stop beside the angel-making outfielder, but he sees only the blue sky above him.

When the game is over, the parents are exhausted. The coaches are exhausted. The kids want to get ice cream.

Competition is not quite as draining for swim coaches. Their more seasoned veterans pitch-in and help with the tadpole swimmers.

Oftentimes, older kids are more successful than parents or coaches in motivating the young ones. Once, I spent an entire week trying to get one of my three kids to dive off the starting block.

A teenager came by and said what I’d been saying for days: “You can do it, Jordan (or Kristen or Trey)! Just put your head between your arms and push off with your feet.”

Splash. Done.

One never knows what tadpoles will do at a swim meet. A few climb up on the block, pull their goggles over their eyes, dip their heads between their outstretched arms, and remain frozen in that position long after the gun has sounded.

Others make immediate water contact with a dive or jump or belly smack. They swim two or five strokes, grab the lane rope, and watch their opponents race.

The dog-paddlers’ heads bob barely above the surface as their arms and legs flurry in furious circles. There are no prouder finishers than the dog-paddlers.

This awesome entertainment is happening right now in fields and pools all around us. Admission is free to spectators, though it’s nice to show the competitors a little encouragement.

Now and then, as my nephdude Abe sprints across the soccer field, he glances in the direction of his cheering section. When he sees we’re watching, he offers up a sheepish grin and keeps on running.

Rookies of rookies are just happy to part of the game—any game.

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