Sunday, October 22, 2006

how to motivate the underdog

When I first told "Mari", age 7, on Friday afternoon, that she would be coming with us to Liga de Futbol the following day, she didn't believe me. We had just watched another girl run across the wide concrete patio to the outstretched arms of her madrina, with whom she would be spending her weekend. Mari, watching the happy spectacle, immobile and long-faced, told me that she would feel better if she could see her father. The girls who don't have second families or permission from the court to stay with certain family members usually stay in the hogar the whole weekend. Liga de Futbol, our monthly inter-institutional competition, allows a team of girls or boys to spend the afternoon playing soccer and other games, painting faces, listening to music, and meeting other kids outside of their hogar. While it may not seem like a huge deal to some people, many of our kids look forward to this monthly trip with great anticipation. "I'm too little," she said. "I don't get to go there." I had to walk with her to the office where Tia M, my director, with her contagious smile and patient composure, explained that as a couple of the older girls who usually play on our hogar's team were leaving for the weekend, Mari would get the opportunity to participate. As soon as we returned to the patio, Mari started running around the perimeter, counting her laps. When asked what she was doing, she replied, in all seriousness, "Training."

Our team didn't win. I've actually heard that our team has never won. Our team didn't exactly play to their full potential, because unfortunately they don't really know what that is. We only just received a ball as a donation (thank you!) and it's very difficult to run a soccer practice, although you can believe Lena and I have tried. I stood helpless on the sidelines, watching my girls, younger than the other team, become more and more deflated. They didn't know how to pass, and they fought over the ball among themselves: we didn't have any sense of team. The older girls, frustrated, insulted the younger girls and bullied them into sitting on the sidelines saying (against their will) that they didn't want to play, and when I overruled the older girls they stormed off to the bathrooms in tears because they knew they wouldn't win. We needed help.

Raul, one of the refs and a favorite tio (all the tios are favorites, as positive male role models are rather scarce in these children's lives), helped my team and I get through the day, but we knew that they needed more than one day's attention. We devised a plan where every week for one hour Raul will come to San Francisco and run organized soccer practice. Because he is Chileno, super patient, and incredibly knowledgeable about soccer, he is a perfect match for the task. Many of these girls have never been encouraged in sports, and for Raul to come with the specific intention of teaching them about the game, we're hoping they'll take themselves more seriously when trying to play it. Maybe we won't win at the next Liga de Futbol, but if we could learn a little bit more about teamwork I think the girls would have a much better time with each other.


Anonymous said...

I'm cheering for them:).

Anonymous said...

PS- tienes mas fotos de Chile (flicker?)