The boy on the field

His black backpack sat limp over his right shoulder. It would’ve seemed like an accessory burden to anyone but, to a Masotho teenager boy, it’s “cool.”

The rest of the boys were on the other side of the field kicking a soccer ball and setting up practice penalty kicks. Still in his uniform, he was on the girls’ side of the field.

He was headed to join the others when he noticed a circle of girls passing the ball in diameter paths. “Drop and pass,” he offered and they stared blankly.

He murmured something in Sesotho and the girls formed a cue and gave him the ball. He kicked it to the first in line and she stopped the ball with one foot, using the other to kick it back to him. After the ball was gone from her foot, she went to the back of the line and the next girl came forward. A simple soccer drill made new to this group of Basotho secondary girls.

The boy did this for several minutes, showing them ways to stop the ball and what part of the foot to use when passing. He switched to another drill that was practicing passes without the stop.

“Good.” “Better.” “Great work.” He never let a girl leave the front without an encouraging word.

I watched this scenario for 10 minutes. The other teachers were absent or busy, so I was the lone leader of sports. Sports are hard because I have to control 65 students and most don’t understand English. Each time I nearly lose my voice trying to carrel them and give order to the activity. Just getting them to walk from the school to the field is hard work. I want to help and guide them, but frustration sets in deep and I lose hope.

Yet, sometimes, when I just stop and let things happen something incredible comes out. An unintentional byproduct of good. This boy was helping his classmates, even encouraging them, both things unheard of for typical Basotho students. He may not have done that if I or another teacher was bossing the students around. The girls didn’t need me to lead them, one of their own stepped up to do the job and in a much better way than I ever could have.

That is what I am here for. Not to be the leader but to plant seeds for others to be leaders. Did I do something to encourage this kid to help his classmates? Not really. But I didn’t do anything to prevent it and sometimes, in this tough work environment, that is a success.

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