"Put down the juice box and pay attention!"
"Uncross your arms!"
These are just a few of the instructions lovingly shouted from the sidelines of a local youth soccer game.
It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday and already the multi-field complex is bustling with activity. At least a half-dozen games are already in the books.
From the parking lot, the bright-colored uniforms look like little colonies of lively ants a green team, a red team, a blue team At first glance, their matching jerseys seem to be the most coordinated element of the spectacle.
With folding chairs in tow, we walk toward the field, where upon closer inspection, what appeared to be mass chaos is in fact a well-organized soccer league. For many of the 6-and-7-year-olds, this is their first experience in team sports.
Just a few fields away, their older counterparts are nimbly dribbling and passing the soccer ball, and it's hard to imagine the first and second graders ever showing that level of coordination. But we know that those high school stars start somewhereand that somewhere is here.
Coaches exhibit unlimited patience as they direct their young charges onto the field. Each team has just a handful of players, so everyone gets into the game.
For every child there could be four or five spectators: Parents and grandparents chat on the sidelines while little brothers and sisters snack and play.
A high-pitched, collective "go team!" is heard, and we're underway.
At this age, they compete without goalies, and even so, points are hard to come by. Passing is minimal as swarms of children follow the ball up and down the field.
Defensemen are reminded to drop back while forwards often lose their sense of direction and kick the ball toward their own goal. No fouls are called.
One little boy gets his cleats caught in the nettwice.
A little girl pauses mid-field to help another fix her ponytail.
At one point an airplane flies overhead and most of the children stop to watch.
Coaches remind them to keep their heads in the game, but the official clock lasts longer than their attention spans.
While score is kept, few are concerned with the outcome. The kids themselves ask "who won?" as they head toward their cars, likely bound for the nearest ice cream stand.
Over the next few years the improvement will be remarkable. Something will just click and all of a sudden they'll get it. For those who continue to train, games will become faster and more interesting to watch. Fans will move from folding chairs to stadium seats and coaches will come under pressure to win. There will be triumphs and disappointments.
But on this Saturday morning, there are no superstars, and no tears, just kids learning to play soccer together, having fun and being part of a team.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.