Thursday, 25 July 2019

The Boy With Big Dreams

On the 8th of August, Isaac turns six.

It means that he can now officially play in the Junior Sunday League after ceremoniously scribbling his name on an official document that declares him member of an FA-registered junior football team, the same local club where England footballer Jamie Vardy started his career.

As far as he is concerned though, he was already six years old when we held his birthday party in mid-July after he complained last year that nobody in school would know that he has in fact grown one year older. Occasionally, he would also say that he feels like he is seven or that he wishes he would already be a grown up (don’t we all?).

Because six-year-old Isaac has a dream.

"I am going to be a footballer".

As many children his age would probably say. And like him, some of them would have been invited to a pre-academy try-outs, goes to free after school training three times a week regardless of the weather, plays on a tournament four times a month with their local club, accumulates medals in the kitchen drawer and asks for the latest replica football kits of their favourite teams for their birthdays. They all look forward to that day they would come out to the pitch greeted by thousands of supporters. They spend their free time practicing hitting goalposts or crossbars, dribbling balls or playing FIFA games in the console. They have mastered the art of rolling over after a bad tackle, know when to try asking for a penalty shot from the referee but still shake hands with the other team at the end of the game. And yet most of them are only six years old.

I don’t know what scares me more, a child who has a big dream or one without any.

Winning medals and signing his first club membership contract.
Among his footballing friends, his kit collection (courtesy of doting Titas) is not that impressive.

Every time I watch him play, I am almost always engulfed in parental pride as he scores one goal after another and hear other parents chanting his name. Isaac the scoring machine. The tiny boy who can take on giants because of his size, speed and pace. The wee lad who almost always delivers at the very last minute of a tight match. The special one. Or is he?
"Out of all the boys who enter an academy at the age of 9, less than half of 1% make it. Or make a living from the game either. The most damning statistic of all is only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football in England at any one time will make it as a Premier League pro. That's a success rate of 0.012%. Pretty much the sort of chances of you being hit by a meteorite on your way home."
It is a statistics that is clearly sobering. Despite the enthusiasm of hopeful parents in the sidelines, I look at my child's dream with wariness and often find myself wondering how one becomes a parent who could push their child to as far as they can reach and still be able to pull them back before they crash?

It's probably not easy but all I can do is try. So I let him drag me to the park to practice penalty shootouts for an hour in exchange for a quiet time to read books, play chess or build marble tracks. I would play FIFA games on Xbox with him after we have sat down doing a few pages of Math and English activities. I would tell him I'm proud of him for scoring goals but much more for being able to pass and create chances for other members of his team.

Weekday afternoons are for skills training and weekends have been dominated by club friendlies and tournament matches. 
Match against Treeton Terriers. The weather had been nice but pouring rain will never stop a game.

Because football, as much as it scares me, has already given him a lot.

My usually shy little boy, once he goes to the middle of the field, transforms. As though he has entered another world, one where he can strip off his inhibitions to become the best version of himself. With other children who shares his passion, who have to work together not for individual glory but for what's best for the team. And most of all, he has learned that they don't have to win all the time, that losing is a chance to learn to be better together.

But it doesn't stop me from needless worrying. Because when I told Isaac he can be anything he wants to be when he grows up, I didn't mean he could or should be a footballer.

Waiting for his turn on a Sheffield Wednesday friendly against a team from Doncaster.

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