My son played for AFC Wimbledon today. Is that not every Dad’s and some Mum’s dream? Your child is conceived and within days, in my case at least, your partner is predicting great sporting achievements. Daughters will win Wimbledon a la Chrissie Evett or maybe in other families the bump is destined to be a musical prodigy? A Lan Lan, able to make the sound of an angel? For footie obsessed men such as my sons’ father … playing for Chelsea is the aim. In fact I remember how delighted he was when by chance my boys were born in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, with my delivery room facing towards Stamford Bridge! As I screamed in the agony of labour, he worried about whether they would come out facing the hallowed ground. Thankfully they did and his superstitious nature has paid off … since as I said already, Toby played for AFC today, his first sort of professional game (or as professional as a 12 year old can be).
My Toby started his sporting career aged 3 showing little promise. At his first nursery school sports day he forgot to run when the starter gun fired. Instead he stood on the line watching his toddler friends running off wondering what to do. We screamed as proud parents do and eventually he remembered what we had coached him to do and pelted down the grass track, but too late to make up the lost time. From there things got better and better until I would look forward to school sports days more than any other day of the year. It is such fun when they are little and my heart would swell with pride at his and his brother’s achievements in the egg and spoon race, sack race or later on high and long jumps.
But somehow as they get older and it all becomes more serious and the fun is diluted. Since he was about 8 years old Toby has been ‘spotted’ playing footie for his local team or for school tournaments. The near hysterical excitement the first time he was asked to go for trials at a professional club is now a sort of resentment that the pressure is too great. He’s a child first and foremost and he should be allowed to enjoy his childhood and yet time and time again it seems he is exhausted at the end of the day. This week he played in a school hockey tournament which took up a whole day away from his academic studies, he had 90 minutes training after school on Tuesday and Thursday, he played a school game Saturday morning, town team game Saturday afternoon and then for Wimbledon on Sunday. Next week he starts training for ISFA, playing in the all London Schools Team in a country wide tournament. This will again mean time off school again.
It’s really tough because I think it’s too much, but of course he loves it. He still pays sport with his mates in the playground at lunchtimes and pops out to play outside in the evenings when he can, but what about the homework and how on earth will he keep up with the relentless academic pressures, and what about having other interests, and not being so tired at night that he can barely eat. It just seems too much for such a young child, is it all worth it?
Of course this is the idle musing of a worried parent because it’s all such an honour and if he does give up it has to come from him. Right now that is the last thing on his mind. He is very determined and very happy to put his all into his dream. But it’s hard enough getting a normal job, let alone aiming to be a professional footballer and when you see the other children at the training sessions you can’t help wondering if the gamble is worth the odds?