The day dawned showery but full of promise. The boys getting revved up for their first game against the Spanish teams. Their day began with breakfast. My boy having slept nearly 11 hours and was still difficult to rouse. Then, we were off for the mile or so walk to the training field. The sun peeked in and out through the clouds and it warmed up a bit. The air more humid today.
The boys went through their second day of training building upon lessons learned the first day and putting them into practice. The Barca style of playing is not one they've really done before and although they showed improvement over the first day, it will take time to integrate and incorporate into their game playing. It's more than just new skills, it's an entirely different mindset on how to play the game for them.
After practice we had a 5 or so hour chunk of time so we went out to explore the city with some other families. We took the Metro to the end of Las Ramblas by the marina and walked to El Born. There we discovered lots of very cool side streets with fantastic architecture and numerous tapas bars and cafes and shops. Finally, with some assistance (what is it with Europe and their lack of street signage?), we found our destination, the chocolate museum!! It was a short visit but a yummy one! Our entrance ticket was a chocolate bar! One learned the history of chocolate and how it's made and then most of the museum was an amazing display of sculptures made of chocolate. I've not figured out how to get pictures on the blog via my tablet, so all my blog posts will be updated with photos once I return.
After the chocolate museum, the boys, one of whom carried a soccer ball with him, played some impromptu street soccer. Then we went our separate ways. We ended up at a cafe that served cheeseburgers. The boy swears it's the best cheeseburger he's ever had! He ate it in 4 bites, so it must have been good, or he, very hungry. Or both. :-)
From there, we made our way back via the Metro, switching lines. The boys are learning how to use the Metro as part of their Spain experience.
We had an early dinner and a brief period of down time before it was time to get ready for their first game. It was expected to be the toughest one of their lives. It was against the Barcelona Youth team. I believe they were a U11 team (a year younger than most of our boys). The boys, at least some of them, were nervous. Their coach was also a bit wound, partially with excitement and partially, I think, with nerves of a different kind. There was a lot of hype about this game and how it was a 'proving ground' for soccer teams from all over the world. The Barcelona youth and academy system is renowned as the best in the world.
The coach had them sit quietly before leaving. This is not something I recall seeing done before. He spoke briefly to them and asked the parents to keep their distance. We boarded the bus with showers in the area and rode the short distance to the field. They were taken to a locker room (!) to be prepped. They truly had a club experience, walking from the locker room, through a 'tunnel' and up the stairs to the field. While cool, this probably added to their anxiety and nerves. They were met by the Barcelona team and walked out ceremonially together to mid-field where they shook hands and posed for their pre-game photo. Much like we do with the final of a tournament back home. Then the captains from each team (my son is their team captain) went out for the coin toss. And the game began.
There is so much I could write about. No one expected our boys to win, and they did not. I don't even know what the final score was. 9-0 I think but I may be wrong. Honestly, I wasn't really counting goals. The boys did not play their best game, but they played the best they could under the circumstances. They had very little time with the ball in their possession and they are not used to that. When they were losing by a few goals, they got frustrated. They were nervous. They were excited. They were probably a wee bit intimidated by the reputation of the Barca kids and the club. They knew these kids would be good. I'm not sure they realized how good, which in their minds, translated into how 'bad' they are. They lost confidence and faith in themselves at times I think. Not all the boys, but a few. In hindsight, a little sports psychology would be good for these boys and their parents. I wonder if the club can do that...
The Barca branding is impossible to ignore. It was everywhere. The FC Barcelona brand is everywhere on every practice field. They play and 'study' in the shadow of some of the greatest soccer players in history and they all hope to be the next Messi. These kids played under a billboard sized photo of the FC Barca team. It's not just a soccer club, it's a culture. A way of life. And an entire paradigm shift for these boys. It's why they are here. To watch. To play. To learn. To grow. To aspire to be the best they can be and play the best soccer they can. Individually and together. They lost sight of that in the middle of the game. Not surprising. They are kids. Far from home. Out of their routine. In a foreign country. On a different time schedule. Playing way more soccer in one day, day after day, then they normally do. Most of this team not having played together since last fall and the entire team as it's made up right now, never entirely together. With all that taken into consideration, they did pretty damn well.
They took another group photo at the end with the coaches. The kids were all mixed in together which was nice to see. They were a classy team. Good sportsmanship and for the most part, played clean. They didn't have to play 'dirty', they played football. Amazingly well. Like. Yeah. Wow. Just. Wow.
Many of the boys were harder on themselves then tween boys should be. Then again, you feel what you feel. Many felt frustrated and disappointed not only with the team's loss, but with themselves. Mine was in tears by the end, as were several others. Not because they lost. Because they felt like they failed. That they didn't do what their coach wanted or expected. That their 'big chance' was missed. The coach talked to them on the bus on the way home. I don't know what was said. It seemed to help a few of them. Upon arriving back at the hotel, they had cake for one of their teammates whose 12th birthday it was. Cake helps everything! Then, they parted ways and went to bed.
It took over an hour after they got back before he'd articulate where his head was at. The crux of it was he felt he played horrible. He didn't get a lot of touches on the ball. His tackles were not working because they moved the ball so damn fast and hard. He got mentally drained trying to do the right thing and not being able to make it work. Once emotionally upset, he got madder because he was emotional! (boys...oh, wait...) He felt he failed his team and his coach. He failed his own expectations. It wasn't the loss. It was pure disappointment and a bit of fear about not being 'good enough'.
I told him, as I always do, I love him and I enjoy watching him and his team play. But I'm not a coach. I don't know what he did and did not do 'right'. I don't know if he was way off base on his assessment of his skill or not. I told him to ask his coach for feedback, but he's too shy. *sigh*
I asked him if he thought he played the best he could and he said yes. That's all you can ever do I told him. Play your best. Have fun. If it's not fun, you won't ever reach your potential. You need the fire and the passion, not just the skill. Learn from what did and didn't work and make adjustments in the future. What seemed to hit home the most was when I told him these kids have been playing soccer this way since they could walk. They eat, sleep, and breathe soccer 24/7. It's not a sport, it's a way of life here. In contrast, his team has been playing this style of soccer for 2 days. 8, 9 or 10 years vs 2 days. Go a little easy on yourselves boys. You are doing great!
That said, a reality check is always a good thing. Sometimes, it takes a serious wake up call like this one to help the kids realize a) if they want to work as hard as they need to (practice, self-sufficiency in preparation and practice, discipline on and off the field, the time commitment) in order to have the potential to play at a super elite level and maybe professionally some day b) if they want to play at that level at all and c) do they have the rudimentary skills to allow them the potential to play at this level and d) what it actually takes to play at this level. Not to mention the support of their parents both financially and emotionally and a coach that cares not only about their soccer skill development, but their development as boys and as individuals and as a team.
He dried his tears and asked for a hug. He fell asleep holding my arm.
Yes, he's an amazingly smart, athletic and creative kid who is loving the boy bonding and soccer experiences he's getting on this trip. He also still needs his mama and some TLC when his body or his ego is bruised. I'm so glad he's still a momma's boy and that I'm here to support him through this adventure. I couldn't be more proud of him.