Marc here. When we were planning our move to Switzerland, I thought I could make the transition easier for Vincent by lining up opportunities for him to continue to play some of the sports he enjoyed in the USA. I reached out to 2 different football (soccer) clubs in Schaffhausen via email, months before our move. I let them know I had a 9 year old boy who had played soccer for years that would be interested in joining a team when we arrived in August. I got no reply from FC Schaffhuasen. I got a reply from Spielvereinigung Schaffhausen, also known as SV Schaffhausen or Spielvi. So that would be Vincent’s club.
Vincent fell into the 9-10 year old age group, and having never seen him play, they placed him on the C team. His first practice with his new team was to be the day after we arrived in Switzerland. That day and that practice embodied the learning and maturing experience that I had hoped our Swiss adventure would be. Vincent was reluctant to go to the practice, but he got into the car. He was reluctant to get out of the car, but he did. He was reluctant to go onto the field, but he joined his new team and started going through the drills.
It was hard. It was uncomfortable. It was scary. But he fought through all of the fear and trepidation, and he practiced. He took a big step toward becoming a more resilient and adaptable person that day, and I was so proud of him.
A couple of things made the season somewhat easier. First, one of his coaches, Patrik, spoke very good English, and although 95% of the instruction on the field was delivered in Swiss German, Patrik would make sure Vincent was not totally lost and would speak to him in English occasionally. Even more important was the presence of Daniel as a teammate. Daniel’s parents work for John Deere and spent 2 1/2 years living in the Quad Cities in Illinois/Iowa. Daniel spoke perfect English, and kind-heartedly translated instruction to Vincent and befriended him. When Daniel arrived at one of their first matches wearing a Chicago Bears t-shirt, it was obvious what a good kid he was.
We had heard stories about foreign kids getting bullied on Swiss sports teams, so we worried for Vin. As it turned out, Vincent was a very valuable player for his team, so despite his inability to communicate with most of his teammates, they embraced him for his role on the team and never gave him a hard time. However, that didn’t mean that everything was perfect and happy for Vincent. I knew he loved playing soccer, so I thought he would be happy playing soccer in Switzerland. It took me a while to realize that the game itself is only a portion of what makes youth sports enjoyable for kids. Another aspect, perhaps equally important to the sport itself, is the camaraderie with teammates. Vincent doesn’t get the camaraderie here like he did on teams when he could talk and joke with teammates easily in the same language. Vin mostly keeps to himself when he is with this sports teams. Occasionally, teammates with try speaking with Vin, sometimes in German and sometimes in English, but Vin usually just tries to give whatever degree of reply feels courteous, but does not encourage a lot more conversation. He does not act like the loud, silly Vincent that we know and (usually) love. He grew accustomed to the awkwardness, and still has fun playing the games he loves.
For the 2016-2017 season, Vincent got placed on the top team in his age group. He was lucky enough to remain with Patrik, his English speaking coach, but there were almost all new teammates, none of which speak English. In the fall 2016, the team performed very well, winning the majority of their matches. For the spring, they have moved up to the top level of competition in Switzerland for their age group. Vincent has enjoyed the higher level of play of his team and their competition.
There are many valuable lessons for children to learn from playing sports: teamwork, the value of hard work, sportsmanship, discipline, etc… The Swiss sports experience may turn out to be even more valuable for Vincent. He has persevered through challenging social situations, and I believe the growth he has experienced will benefit in all situations for the rest of his life.