Dedicated to the Chicago KICS girls' U-13 girls traveling soccer team, Fall 2014. —DM
First it was one of our players who I noticed,
going about her business as if she was being paid for it.
Calmly, efficiently, straight-faced.
Gradually I noticed that all the girls on the team—
—and all the girls on the teams they travel to play—
all of them go about their business that way.
They do not: complain to the referees, visibly react to their coaches' scoldings,
scowl at their opponents even when an elbow is thrown,
or countenance their parents' unhelpful yells ("Get in there!" "Win the ball!").
They don't dance after they score, or howl when the ball bounces off the post.
They don't smile frequently and they almost never laugh.
They don't play! That's what I'm getting at!
They work—hard enough, but no harder.
And with such composure and calm that it's a suprise,
when one comes close to the sideline and you hear her breathing hard,
or you see her cheeks turning red.
They win or they lose.
The adults hide their disappointment after losses,
but reveal their vicarious ambition with their exultation after victories.
The girls must notice, but they don't show it. They don't show anything.
You want there to be a press conference after the game.
You want a chance to ask them one by one,
"Are you conscious, during the game, of having fun?"
Except, you'd be embarrassed to ask a question like that of professionals.
(And you know they'd only answer the question politely,
the way their media training taught them to.)
What actually happens after the game is that, per their coaches' orders,
our girls form up at midfield and run single-file to the sideline
to high-five the parents.
And we line up eagerly like young fans,
astonished at the chance to touch our heroes.