Yesterday afternoon, after another day of soccer camp, Matthew asked if he could talk with me.
"Mom," he said. "Today I faced a fear and overcame it."
"Wow," I returned. "That's a really hard thing to do Matthew. I can't always do that. Tell me about it."
He proceeded to explain that, though he has always really enjoyed playing soccer, he's always been too scared to dive in and to be really be competitive in pursuit of the ball. The reason? He's been scared of being hit by the ball or being kicked by another player.
This fit exactly with what I'd observed about him earlier in the week when I had a chance to watch about 10-15 minutes of the kids' three-on-three games. Every time Matthew would run close to the ball he'd back right off if another kid approached to try to 'steal' the ball away; he almost danced around the ball at times, seemingly in an effort to avoid kicking it. I didn't give this much thought, however, because I know that Matthew is not a very competitive child by nature and I've seen this kind of thing happen for years when he's played team sports - where he backs away in favour of letting others 'get' the ball/puck/etc. So my observations of his soccer playing fit perfectly with the image I have of his personality.
But I had no idea that backing away from the ball at a crucial moment was based in fear that he was going to be hurt. Huh.
I asked him how he overcame his fear. He said that he didn't really know, but that he'd been thinking about it and had decided on Thursday morning that he was just going to give it everything he had and if he got hurt he knew he'd be taken care of and he'd survive.
Wow, was my thought. What bravery.
I asked him if he'd noticed a difference in how he played as a result of facing his fear and he said a resounding "yes!" He said that he wasn't as scared to be competitive any more and that he'd thrown himself into playing as hard as he could, every single play. He described a few plays that he'd made, and said that they were the result of his overcoming his fear and being willing to just dive into the fray. No wonder he was completely exhausted at the end of the day!
I told him that I was very proud of him for figuring this out and for making a hard decision and for being brave and for working hard.
And then guess what he told me, with a smile?
At the end of the soccer day, the coaches and kids all gather together in a huddle and cheer for people who made a significant contribution that day; throughout the week, the coaches try to highlight each kid at some point or another, to acknowledge a strength or contribution of that kid. Well, yesterday during the usual huddle time, Matthew was named MVP of the day, for the specific reason that he'd been the hardest worker of the day! What a confirmation of his private decision to overcome his fear!
This is a perfect example of how kids learn best: When they have opportunity and space to learn what they need to know/do on their own...as a result of their own thought processes, passions, decisions, hands-on experience. These moments are what stick with our kids - when they figure things out for themselves, rather than being spoon-fed excellent knowledge by the best-intentioned adults in their lives. This is the lesson that I need to learn and remember.
I'd say Matthew passed a pretty significant 'test' in the school of life yesterday.