19 September 2005

Soccer Weekend

Nathan in action!
Warm up before the big game against Baillargues

Célia and her team in between games at the tournament this weekend.

Nathan at the ready at the midfield position

Célia looks so much bigger than the boys in her division.

Well....we have started the soccer life in France in a big way! This weekend, Nathan's team had a match against Baillargues. It was a well played match with Baillargues scoring very quickly. The Sussargues team did not answer until the very last minutes of the game. The goal came off of a fabulous cross by Nathan that was placed firmly in the goal by a team mate. To say the least, Nathan was very proud to have had such a success his first game out. He is playing in the 13 year old league and it is a very physical division. Lots of arms and hands! They definitely have learned the art of passing at a very young age as they are fairly expert at working the ball up the field and crossing. There is not a lot of showmanship or ball hogging in this version of the game. It makes it really fun to watch and challenging for Nathan to play.

The cultural experience of the soccer world here has been very educational. The players are extremely respectful of the coach and other players. They stop everything they are doing when the coach arrives and quickly line up to shake his hand and greet him. If they hit someone hard during the game, they immediately go to the person and shake their hand and help them up. There is no schedule of games handed out to the parents. There are more than twenty boys at Nathan's practices. Only fourteen may play at each match according to "FFF" rules. The coach hand picks the players to go to the game. His letter to the parents stated that as in life, those who work hard and show determination and discipline will succeed...meaning get to play a real match. His coach is very strict, but fair. He has been very patient with Nathan's language barrier.

Célia's team has over thirty on it. Again, as with Nathan's, a limited number may play at each match. Célia is one of three girls on the team. In France, they split boys and girls at Nathan's level. At her first practice, Célia showed the boys the tough determination of an American girl.

Célia was handed one of eleven invitations to the tournament in Baillargues on Sunday. We showed up at nine in the morning for what we thought was one match. It turned out to be an all day affair where each team played a fifteen minute game and the results led to the playoffs in the afternoon. All teams lined up on one of four fields and the announcer started the play and ended the play...every set of games started and ended exactly at the same time. It was an amazingly efficient method of running a tournament. The play was fast and fun. During one of Célia's matches, the ball was kicked in for a goal and it went over the fence and into the brush. The other team sent a player to root it out as the fifteen minutes for play ticked by. Perhaps a new strategy for the next tournament!

Célia's team took third place out of twelve teams...a very fine placing! The top team was a definitely older and more technically advanced team of children from THE city of Montpellier. A trophy went to the top teams...Célia's coach gives the trophy to each player for a week to enjoy and display at home. Célia was handed it for the first honor over the energetic begging from the boys. She was very proud to carry it out of the stadium. This morning at school, her friend Benjamin came admiringly up to her and said he had seen her at the tournament as he played for another village. She was very proud of her achievements as was her former coach (ME!)

Although - as with most everything we encounter here - we have much to learn about the soccer life in France, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience this weekend...we met some new people, watched proudly as Nathan and Célia figured their way through a maze of new experiences and saw a slice of life we would have never experienced as tourists. It made me homesick for our soccer friends and community, but happy that we could offer the children - both our's and the french families - a new cultural exchange.

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