Last Thursday, at first glance, seemed like a dismal afternoon. At 4 p.m., as DC SCORES games were about to begin, the sky was gray, the temperature was in the mid-40s, and a rain that began as a drizzle started to steady itself.
Standing on the soggy grass outside Noyes Education Campus, I was alone with our volunteer referee Jackson. Noyes coach Russell Holmes had smartly decided to have his team wait inside the school until the Wolfpack’s opponent, C.W. Harris, arrived.
With darkness just around the corner, I hoped we could just get a game in.
Sure enough, there was only one game — a co-ed affair — but to my surprise, the poet-athletes on the field demonstrated, in 40 minutes of action, a season’s worth of progress, a season’s worth of coaching.
The rain didn’t affect them. The cold didn’t change the way they played. Even as nighttime arrived early, they weren’t rattled.
Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t watching the most “Beautiful Game.” But what I saw spoke to the impact two months of proper soccer instruction can have on kids who have never put their foot to a ball before.
There was a handful — or should I say “headful” — of perfectly executed headers. There were series of passes that led to scoring chances. And there was a pair of perfectly placed goals scored by a Noyes boy from 20-30 yards out.
But what most impressed me was what I didn’t hear often — Jackson’s whistle.
Almost every fall season, we stress to referees that they should correct players every time they incorrectly do a throw-in. This occurs quite often, as it doesn’t exactly click in kids’ heads that they can’t lift even one foot off the ground.
What a silly rule!
Last Thursday, however, Jackson didn’t have to blow his whistle and make a single correction.
As I watched this unfold, I chatted up a Noyes poet-athlete on the sideline as we both tried to stay warm and dry. He told me how Coach Russell had stressed and had the team practice — over and over and over — correct technique.
It was, by the second to last game of the season, drilled into their heads. The same seemed to be the case for C.W. Harris.
As I mentioned, this wasn’t the prettiest game. There were some handballs that had the coaches shaking their heads. And C.W. Harris coach Curtis Yarbrough spent most of the game trying to remind his team not to get too bunched together on the field.
They never completely got the message, and he used the few minutes after the final whistle and before the bus arrived as a mini practice. In the dusk, Curtis instructed seven players to go to positions on the field. Then he demonstrated to them how they needed to move as one, maintaining that spacing regardless of where the ball went.
It was dark. It was raining. It was cold. And the learning wasn’t over.
No wonder these kids have made such progress in such a short time period.
I’m looking forward to the final week of games this Thursday.