Why I Cried at a Kindergarten Soccer Game

“I’ve seen the flame of hope among the hopeless, and that was truly the biggest heartbreak of all. That was the straw that broke me open.” –Bruce Cockburn

Soccer Comeback

Photo Credit: chipgriffin via Compfight cc

The day I cried at my five year-old son’s soccer game began like any other. Late spring in suburbia. Soccer fields undulating with short people playing their last game of the season. For my son’s team, who had not lost a game in three seasons, it was presumably just another victory.

But when we got to the field, the day changed.

The kids on the other team were bigger, more aggressive. I swear one was wearing a mouth guard. One of them looked like Pele and another one was bending it like Beckham. I asked for birth certificates but no one complied.

When the game started, the onslaught began. Our kids played as hard as ever, but the goals started to mount up. My heart was in my throat. Because it’s never fun to watch your kid taste defeat for the first time. And because I’m a sore loser.

When one of the opposing kids dribbled near me on the sideline, I considered tripping him. Just kidding. Sort of.

With only minutes remaining in the game, my son’s team was down by five—victory seemed impossible. I looked around and our team’s parents were hanging their heads and kicking the dirt. I stared at the grass and wondered how I would comfort my son.

When It Makes Sense to Give Up

I think many of us live our lives feeling like we’re a few goals behind and time is running out and the deficit is insurmountable.

The silence in our marriages rings out like a siren, reminding us we’ve just repeated the same argument for the countless time. Our children bury us beneath an avalanche of needs and wants and we wonder how we will dig ourselves out. The demands at work are mounting and the hours are getting longer but the pay is staying the same and there’s no end in sight. The mortgages that once seemed like a good idea now hang around our necks like a millstone. We lay awake at night, wrestling with demons that have haunted us for as long as we can remember, but their howls are getting louder and it makes the mind spin faster all the time.

For me, there are days when a sink full of dishes and a dryer full of clothes and a million other demands of life feel like a hurdle I can’t help but trip upon. Some days, I want to trip on the hurdle and land on my face and simply lay there.

In the game of life, we can fall behind quickly and the urge to quit playing can be overwhelming.

I think many of us succumb. And we don’t even realize it.

In the game of life, I think giving up looks like twenty television shows a week, three beers a night, sleeping with our backs to our lovers, serving our children while never really looking them in the eye, shopping for sport, internet porn pastimes, smart phone infatuations, and every other kind of inertia we swallow like a drug.

In the game of life, when the deficit seems insurmountable, it makes sense to give up.

Which is why I cried at my son’s soccer game.

Why I Cried

As the parents on the sidelines were wincing and hanging heads, something happened on the field. You could feel it, like a wave of electricity rippling through the spectators.

Our kids decided the game wasn’t over.

Suddenly, they were making passes that belonged in the Olympics. They moved the ball down the field like it was their job, and they scored one goal.

And then another.

And another.

Little five-year-old fists were getting raised. Smiles were spreading from ear to ear. My son looked at me with a wink and threw me a thumbs-up. I have never watched a bunch of kids have so much fun playing a game. The comeback was a frenetic, furious dance of joy and excitement.

Then time ran out. The final score was 9-8. My son’s team had lost.

And I started to cry.

Not tears of sadness. Tears of joy. My son and his friends filled me with joy, because I’ll take a heroic comeback that falls short over a massive victory any day. Because what I’ve come to love in this world is people who have no reason to feel hope, insist on it anyway, discover it, and begin to live it.

My heart is broken open for people who refuse to stop believing in themselves.

Don’t Call It a Comeback! (Call It Hope)

I lived most of my life as a pessimist and a cynic. I was raised to believe people are basically rotten and broken at their core. I wasn’t raised with much hope for what people are.

Therapy has healed me of my pessimism. And by that I mean, being a therapist has radically and forever altered the way I understand humanity.

Sitting with people, day in and day out, who are in the most hopeless situations, I have discovered people have an inherent desire to fight, to be resilient, to mount a comeback of epic proportions. The desire is simply lying dormant beneath layers of shame.

For most people, hope is ignited when they begin to discover the goodness and beauty at their core. And when it’s ignited, it doesn’t flicker like a candle, it rages like an inferno in a drought-dry forest.

Because we are wired for hope.

We are wired for redemption.

We are wired for comebacks.

As a therapist, I’ve learned the final score doesn’t really matter. Because I’ve yet to see the official scoreboard of life, and because winning is overrated anyway. What really matters is that we never stop playing, never stop fighting, and never stop thrilling at the rush of a comeback. What matters is that we turn our deficits into opportunities, so when the final whistle blows, we can smile and remember how hard we fought.

And we can leave the spectators in tears of joy.


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Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

21 thoughts on “Why I Cried at a Kindergarten Soccer Game

  1. Thank you for this. I awoke today feeling the most discouraged I have in a long time. I’m facing some tough stuff and I’ve made some tough decisions to move forward, and I have worried that I just won’t be able to make it. I am so very tired of making hard choices and growing. I do see the benefits, but I also feel so tired. This reflection made me cry. It was just that bit of reminder that I needed. I’ve experienced that special part of humanity, too…in myself and others… that part that keeps going and doesn’t quit. I didn’t think I could feel this way today. Thank you.

    • Karis, I’m glad this came at the right time for you. Some of the most important moments in my life have been unexpected moments of relief; they give me hope for the next time a pleasant surprise comes my way. May you have hope, as well!

  2. “For most people, hope is ignited when they begin to discover the goodness and beauty at their core.”
    Wow! Last night I was chatting with a friend who is suicidal. We are states apart and I do not know her address or phone number. I am thinking that I need crisis training for such situations. When I read your quote that I copied above, I saw that I know that in my heart. I believe in her whole and beautiful heart underneath all the hurt and pain, just as someone believed in me and for me. I pray that she will discover that this is true. My goal in each conversation with her is to strengthen her and believe in her.
    I believed for another friend for years and about 4 months ago, she started to believe in herself. It was like she woke up one day, like those kindergarteners, and started to live life.
    I’m 51 and slowly going through school because I want to be a counselor. I don’t know that I will ever finish school as I’m still redoing generals that didn’t transfer from 30 years ago. But I know that I am on the path where I need to be. I know that there is goodness and beauty underneath each of our broken hearts.
    Thank you for your encouragement!

    • Thank you, Carrie. Thank you for your comment, and for seeing the beauty in the world and people around you, and for giving yourself at this point in your life to a helping profession. May you have peace on this path you’ve discovered.

  3. I really appreciate this post. It was timely for me and more importantly, I think it is that important that we keep on trying and we keep on fighting through the hard stuff. I dont see it as a comeback but more a desire to fight for a better day to have that HOPE that there is something more and something better if we just keep trying. Thanks Kelly I needed this today.

  4. Pingback: Why I Cried Reading A Text Message | Lost in-Elegant Cogitations
  5. Dear Dr. Flanagan,

    Thank you for this awesome story. I have a friend who, like your son and his teammates, persisted to a great comeback. I wanted to share her story here but realized it would take up your entire comment box! I decided to write about it on my blog instead. That persistence takes an enormous amount of courage and it is hard to face the dark and demons not knowing if there really is light and healing at the other end. I finally understand what being ‘Free in Christ” really means.

    God bless you for your ministry, courage, encouragement. May He bless you with health, salvation and the furtherance of all Good Things.


    • Athanasia, I’m so glad to hear this inspired a blog post of your own! Sometimes, I think writing is a tiny little comeback of its own. : ) Blessings to you, as well!

  6. Thank you for this wonderful article. I find myself planning for a “come-back” as I finish with 16 months of treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. I have done a lot of reading in these past 16 months. At first, it was research about cancer, alternative treatments, etc., then I continued with my studies; I had been reading the Bible all the way through since the summer of July 2009. I am just now in the book of Revelation. It is good to read s-l-o-w-l-y. I have also been reading the Saints and studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church and began reading the Vatican II documents. And I also added light reading, the treatments were rough and I needed down time to cope with them. Insomnia nights were filled with the television you described above, but I liked watching the old mysteries on the Hallmark Channel, where there was still amoral code and the good guys won, and the bad guys were brought to justice. Somehow, I never felt “down”. I didn’t take sleeping pills (my wonderful gp told me that insomnia wasn’t going to hurt me that much, God bless him, but he did not want me to be dependent on sleeping pills). I never needed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. The two months that I felt anxious drove me to do more research, and so I have been doing a lot of research about PTSD. Actually, I have been reading about PTSD since 1998, knowing that I have been struggling with this since childhood, but in the past 16 months, I have been necessarily “grounded” with chemo, radiation, surgery, and more and more chemo; so I have had time to study more. I am now near the end of my treatments and looking forward to working with a specialist in trauma therapy. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not an oncoming train. I am ready for whatever God has in store for me. Our lifetime is a gift and a journey; Heaven is our true homeland, and as we learn to love and give of ourselves in a deeper way,, we help to bring a little bit of Heaven and Hope to this earth.

    • Absolutely beautiful story of the way you have redeemed your illness, by slowing down and finding the depth in all things. Please don’t ever miss a chance to tell your story. The world needs it. I needed it today. Thank you!

  7. Amen to all of this! I work with adolescents and families impacted by complex trauma and as much as the work can be heavy at times, this is why I do it! I’ve seen so many people rise above what seemed like an insurmountable amount of pain and barriers and I’m blown away every time. Thank you for the reminder and the beautiful words!

    • Erin, thank you for the word you do! Trauma survivors are indeed some of the most inspiring examples of this kind of resilience. It is hard work you do, blessings to you!

  8. Absolutely awesome post! It’s good timing as I’m on my own “Come-back” with lots of hope for the future!

    • Wow! Thanks for sharing Kelly. And I loved your “I’ve yet to see the official scoreboard of life” – what a great visual.

  9. Of late, I’ve been having a challenging time with domestic help. At times, they really surprise me with their insights about my 3 yr old & then I feel, they are not always manipulative. I then feel a surge or responsibility within, to groom them, to cultivate their inner confidence.

  10. My reaction to your blog is twofold; as an educator and as a parent. I am a classroom teacher who is working vigilantly on a daily basis to teach 8th Graders and all middle schoolers about the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I am building my “bell-rnger” curriculum lessons based on nuggets of info whether it is a podcast on the Mercer – Duke loss/upset on a daily basis or sharing an article/blog like yours with them and then discussing with them how different moments of our anecdote show fixed mindsets and growth mindsets. Finally, I would ask them if your message of the entire text’s mesage is a growth or fixed one. Clearly you must know Dweck’s work as a psychologist and know the answer or I would not be writing you!!:) i am asking copyright permission under educators “Fair Use’ to share your blog with my students in order to develop a short mindset lesson. Usng your text also helps validate blogs as living documents students should pursue to analyze as primary sources and to meet the rigorous Common Core State Standard movement that the majority of the nation is now using. I am happy to share more with you via email. The standards require we expose our student to blog texts and to get kids blogging, themselves.

    Secondly, I came upon your blog accidentally and read it originally to help my fixed mindset as a struggling parent learning how to become a parent of an athlete. (I am new to this, for although my older kids when little played soccer in Atlanta suburbs, they were just learning the game and had NO TALENT). Then my bonus baby came along and he is a talented singer, strings player, student (layz gene surface:)) and a baseball player with incredible talent from day one. Even with basketball at age two he was moving a full size basketball from one hand to the next as he maneuvered the driveway court, never traveling or double dribbling. We watched in awe. He is a natural in golf (at age 5 drove the ball 150 yards at his first camp and the pro approached me about his “future” and I said, “Thanks, but he just wants to have fun. I will keep your card.” Now in baseball he is growing as a catcher and we have actually invested in having him work with a baseball coaching group that that balances love for the game with serious skill development. Yet we have met our first coach who shows favoritism, who is benching my child after he plays his best games and better than his peers, and who is forgetting that tough love for 6th graders is necessary, but MUST be tempered by praise and growth mindset feedback in order to not kill the spirit even in his best players that are developing everyday.

    Your article is just what the doctor ordered for this mom still learning a sport she has always liked least (I love basketball — IU grad — because of the action and so much happening on every play). Baseball is a great sport and this is not the first unfair coach my child will come across. But I have to model hope and ALWAYS remain a spectator wired for redemption with only tears of joy, not frustration or sadness as I watch an adult who has the same awesome responsibility entrusted to him as I do in the classroom hopefully develop a growth mindset or help me learn to understand his.

    I know this is probably the longest response you have ever received, but I had to share from my two lenses: educator and parent. I would have emailed but could not figure that out. I am not an experienced blogger, but hope you can help me grow in that respect. I hope you will respond to this blog response (correct lingo?). Thank you for your sharing your growth mindset.

    PS Just noticed you are in Wheaton. I lived first 11 years of marriage in Naperville and was born and raised in Joliet. Small world. Now living in deep south due to job transfer. 12 years have flown by.

    • Hi Kristen, I’ve never heard it referred to that way (growth versus fixed mindset), but it certainly resonates. In some spiritual literature, the growth mindset is referred to as having a “beginner’s mind,” always being open to learning more, changing, being transformed. Thanks for the work you do to foster that in young people! P.S. After the winter we’ve had, i wish I had moved to the deep south with you!

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