Each girl grew in skills and self-esteem in their own unique way

Five different passages to the same place

Christine had a riot of Shirley Temple curls topping off her tiny frame. But that’s all I could see of the three-year-old hiding behind her daddy, burrowing into his bulky winter coat. My question (“How old are you, Christine?”) only drove her deeper into the folds of the coat. The thought that this shy tyke might do something as bold as play soccer was inconceivable. Ten weeks later, she was giving me high fives and hugs around my knees, and demonstrating her skills for crowds of parents and other kids.

soccer skills schoolPig-tailed Laura, who has Down’s syndrome, stopped my high-five greeting with a two-fisted grip, squeezing as hard as she could. Her riveting gaze told me she wasn’t going to let go anytime soon. Thus tethered to Laura, I escorted her into the gym, chatting until she lost interest and released me. The intense grips continued, lessening week by week until, by graduation, I was getting hugs and hand slaps as vigorously affectionate as the earlier grips had been powerfully intense.

Amy glowed as only kids can glow in giddy anticipation of a good time. But while the other parents were in the bleachers, Amy’s mom was right by her daughter’s side in the middle of the gym. I wondered why — until I asked the girls to dribble their soccer balls around. Amy half ran, half hopped behind her ball, executing her moves despite braces that ran up both sides of one leg. By graduation, Amy’s mom was on the sidelines, and Amy’s glow was brighter than before.

Katherine’s gait was graceless. She ran as if she had two left feet. Kicking the ball was a 50-50 proposition: sometimes she’d connect, sometimes she’d swat only air. Katherine appeared to be hopeless as an athlete. But she kept coming back. Week after week, year after year, even into early adolescence when embarrassing yourself is to be avoided at all costs. But one day, it clicked. In a town league game against girls who thought they knew her, Katherine dribbled the length of the field, around stunned opponents, and scored. All the effort had paid off. She had grace, skills, and self-confidence — and a stunning goal to show for it.

Then there was Emily, speedy and serious. Already a talented soccer player, Emily came to hone her skills and learn new ones. She was all business, practicing new moves at home, never fooling around during sessions. One day Emily’s dad ran into me at the grocery store. “Emily mastered one of those moves,” he said. “She faked a defender out of her shoes and scored. When someone asked her where she learned the move, she pumped her fist and said, ‘Hot Shots!'”

Regardless of the girl, regardless of her maturity level, regardless of her athletic ability, Hot Shots brings out something special in each girl and gives her something special as well. Using a fun and supportive environment, Hot Shots builds mastery of athletic skills and, as a result, self-confidence, and gives the girls and their friends a unique community of their very own, something they belong to, not just an activity they attend.

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