He Can Still Wear the Shirt

Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others.

                              — Philippians 2:4


Maddy is on a sports team for the first time. She’s a very proud, very short member of the Tigers, a soccer club for first-grade girls. They play 4-on-4. There’s no score and no goalie. The games are action-packed, when the kids aren’t staring off at the clouds or kneeling to tie their shoes. Maddy loved picking out her first uniform. She wore her shinguards and socks to bed the night before the first practice.


Her coach is an orthodontist by day, and a coffee-toting, whistle-blowing comedian at soccer practices and games. When they score and high-five him – well, LOW-five, considering the height differential –their pudgy little hands smack his giant one. It’s adorable.


He has made this first sporting experience a real joy for Maddy, not only because of his patient instructions, but because he’s funny. For example, he’s faced with the ultimate sports challenge: on his team there are three Maddys – two Madisons and our Madeleine. We love his coaching solution: he just calls them all “Fred.”



Maddy’s three older sisters came to her first game. They loved how her soccer shorts came up to her armpits and down to her knees. They loved her intensity, and how she’d beam and whoop when she made contact with the ball.


The grandmas came to the second game. They proclaimed that if cuteness counted in soccer, the Tigers would win the World Cup. They loved how every little girl found a way to help the team. The best one was when Maddy tried to kick the ball in the center of a big bunch of kids, but whiffed and fell down . . . and her fallen body blocked a shot on goal. The crowd roared. She grinned. It was her best play.


She’s a natural-born defender. The first time the other team scored, she made two tiny fists and punched down toward the ground. You could hear her thinking, “THAT’S not going to happen again!” Whenever anybody on her team scores, her grin is enormous, and she pumps her fist into the sky as if exhorting a stadium of thousands of fans.


Maddy hasn’t scored yet, although she came close. Good thing it missed: it would have gone into her own goal.


But who are we kidding? She’s only in it for the treats. She calls them “awesome” and “splendid,” especially the fudge brownies with sprinkles.


But team spirit has definitely taken root in her little heart. A few days after her first game, I took her down to Omaha’s zoo for a last outing before school started. Lingering over hot dogs at the pavilion, we saw a family with a young man in a wheelchair, apparently a quadriplegic.


Maddy looked at him, then turned to me and said solemnly:


“He can’t play soccer.”


Ooh. What could be worse, to her young mind? Images of her frolicking on that soccer field flashed through my mind . . . the darting little runs . . . the solid, satisfying kicks. . . .


She added:


“Well, maybe he can’t play. But he can still wear the shirt.”


Her eyes searched my face.


“Of course he can,” I replied. “Any team would be lucky to have him.” She beamed.


Thinking of others FIRST! She shoots! She scores! G – O – A – L !!!!!


I was humbled by her empathy and insight. She “gets it” about the teamwork and the need for belonging. That’s important to remember on teams, in families, in offices, in schools . . . just about everywhere people get together. It’s a good message for this Labor Day, and every day.


You don’t have to be a star. You don’t even have to be very good. Sometimes you help your team the best just by showing up . . . suiting up . . . and caring enough to want to be a part. To wear the shirt.


If one so small can understand the key to teamwork, maybe there’s hope.


Thanks, Li’l Coach. I needed that. Let’s celebrate! Got any more fudge brownies with sprinkles? †

By Susan Darst Williams | www.RadiantBeams.org | Sports | © 2020