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Tyke soccer: a Blue Tiger by the tail


AS YOU'VE NO doubt heard by now, it's been an exciting season thus far for the Blue Tigers, my son's soccer team in the 6-and-under Tyker program.

The name Blue Tigers, by the way, was proposed by our players at a strategic meeting before our first game.

When it was pointed out that there is, in fact, no such thing as a blue tiger, the players lapsed into thoughtful silence for several seconds.

Then one player said: "When does the ice cream man get here?"

"Blue Tigers it is, then," said our coach, Mike Santo, sensing that the meeting was moving in a direction somewhat inconsistent with the strategies he wanted to discuss.

From there we lined up for Picture Day, to have team and individual photos taken. These treasured keepsakes will, of course, end up wadded in a ball under the kids' beds by next Thursday.

OK, I said we "lined up," but the truth is, the session went something like this:

Photographer: "OK, I want the front row down on one knee."

(Nobody in the front row moves.)

Photographer: "Down on one knee, front row."

(Everybody in the front row gets down on two knees.)

Photographer: "No, no, one knee!"

(Two players in the front row stand up.)

Once we got that tricky one-knee business down, though, the rest of the photo session went smoothly, at least until the photographer asked the back row to take a step forward and two of our players simply left.

The good news is that the Blue Tigers are off to a sizzling 2-0 start and have scored a total of 11 goals.

Or maybe we lost both games and had 52 goals scored against us.

The truth is, in Tyker soccer, it's often hard to figure out what's going on out there.

This is because the players have not yet mastered the concept of "playing your position," preferring a tactic called "everybody kick the ball."

This means that at any given time you have, oh, 16 kids from both teams flailing at the ball with all the calm of a steel-cage match in Wrestlemania.

The result is that the ball generally travels a distance of approximately 8 inches per kick, with most teams taking an average of three hours and 20 minutes to score a goal. In fact, if you were to take an aerial photo of this, it would look like a swarm of ants pushing a crumb across a patch of green grass.

The other thing that makes Tyker soccer somewhat, um, different is that players will routinely wander off the field whenever they feel like it.

For instance, in the Blue Tigers' first game, we experienced an alarming moment in which eight players from the opposing team suddenly converged with the ball on our goalie.

As the defensive coach, I was naturally curious to learn the whereabouts of my defenders, especially since one of them was my son, Jamie, who had promised to stick around for just such an eventuality.

It turned out that three of our players were up around midfield discussing a show on the Cartoon Network, which, judging from their conversation, is a real hoot.

Another of our defenders was on the sideline firing karate kicks at his little brother, who was screaming as if someone was removing his cornea with a penknife.

As you can imagine, the absence of any teammates in front of him put tremendous pressure on our goalie who, faced with incredible odds, did the only sensible thing he could do.

He stepped aside and let the other team score.

I myself would have done the same thing if I were 5 years old.

In fact, I did the same thing in a game when I was 35 years old, DTC preferring not to die from an 80-mph kick delivered at point-blank range by a surly, thick-legged postal worker.

The mind is like a computer. And in the split-second or so in which I had to make a decision, I determined that a ball traveling at that rate of speed, if it hit me in the face, would actually separate my head from the rest of my torso.

Doing some more quick math, I also calculated that the force of the shot would cause my head to end up somewhere in New Jersey.

So I thought our goalkeeper played it just right, as he followed the basic credo I adopted early in my sports career: If it's gonna hurt, get out of the way.


Pub Date: 9/26/96

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