On August 9, 2018, we infiltrated one of the best soccer organizations in the country. This is what happened.
I lather my son with sunscreen until his visible skin glistens like a freshly waxed car. His hasn’t received his official uniform yet, so he wears mismatched soccer gear. He grew out of his soccer shoes the week before, so he had on fashion sneakers from a local children’s store.
My husband is in workout gear too. When we signed up for classes, he was told a parent would be practicing along with the kid and to come prepared.
We climb into the Uber (my son slips into it, still shiny from the sunscreen). The car escorts us across town to the Wembley practice arena in Laureles.
We find the entrance and walk up wide metal stairs to the second floor. A friendly coach in an Atletico Nacional practice uniform greets us.
As the coach goes to shake hands with D3, his water bottle slips from his hands, sending water flying across the mismatched terracotta tiles. He erupts in the cry he’s reserved for the dropping of things. It’s a low, slow wail which ramps up in intensity as it goes by, like an approaching fire truck.
I try to talk him off the cliff, but he’s too far gone.
Don’t worry! He’s not going to cry during practice! I want to say. He’s tough!
I don’t have to. His female coach manages to soothe him by refilling his bottle.
We’re sent up to the third floor to wait for practice to start. Upstairs, the soccer field is covered with striped astroturf and enclosed by brick and gated walls.
Next to it is the viewing area for non-practicing family members. Life-sized banners of Cuadrado and Chelsea FC players hang from the ceiling. Small plastic chairs and tables covered with Aguila Light logos sit underneath.
There are a handful of kids upstairs. I had envisioned matching shoes and uniforms and haircuts. I expected to see an elite group of polished child soccer soldiers being groomed for World Cup 2030.
Instead, I see a group of 3 to 5-year-olds drowning in oversized uniforms. They are playful. They are kicking the ball around with their guardians. They are rolling around in the astroturf. They are normal kids.
My mother-in-law and I ease into the plastic chairs while Dwayne and D3 make their way onto the field. The coach pair, male and female, huddle the kids and their adults in a circle. The male coach leads them in the sign of the cross and the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, he goes over the plan for the day.
The coaches break the kids up into groups of three for relay style speed drills. They run across the field. They do sideways jumping jacks. They hop. Last is a strange march that makes them look like back up dancers in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
After a short water break, there are individual drills with the parents. The female coach calls on a kid to demonstrate the drill. The boy stands with his back to her. On her command, he whips his head around and executes the perfect header off the ball she chucks at his head.
Chest shots follow headers. Next, the kids lay down on the ground. On the parents’ commands, they leap off the ground and bounce the ball off their chest, then thighs.
These drills are especially difficult for D3. He has a strong aversion to strange textures and getting his hands dirty. As he leaps off the ground, he takes a few moments to dust his hands off on his shorts before hitting the ball back.
Another water break. Now it’s time for a real game. The other kids are great at drills, but I imagine this game will be a cute and relaxed affair.
Up until this moment, D3 has never played a real game. He kicks the soccer ball around with his friends at school. He plays with us on the weekends. But never a real game.
The kids form two teams. The coaches make sure each child knows which net is his target. The whistle blows. The kids start attacking the ball.
D3 wanders off the field towards my husband, who is chatting with the coach. His teammates chase the ball like mini Falcaos.
D3 realizes what’s going on. He starts jogging toward the ball. My muscles tense as if I was at a real Nacional game.
“Get the ball! Kick the ball!” I am the only parent “helping”.
D3 gets his foot on the ball a couple times. It’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
The game ends. Vests win, 3-1. The kids and their adults gather around in a circle again, snacking on fruit and water. One of the kids brings a lollipop for each of his friends. He passes it out to each kid while his grandmother looks on with pride.
The coach ends the practice with the Lord’s Prayer. The kids go around the circle naming something they’re thankful for. The coach blows the whistle to dismiss them. The kids ambush the coaches with hugs and high fives.
We leave and climb in a taxi. D3 asks if he has practice tomorrow. “No. Next week,” I say. The news disappoints him. The practice has ignited in him an even deeper passion for the game.
I look across the backseat at my husband. “That was literally heaven,” he says.