It's a Saturday morning in 1984, and I'm riding in the back seat of my dad's Datsun 280Z. I feel nauseous. Not because I'm carsick, but because it's the Belmont Cup Soccer Finals. This is my first year playing soccer, a sport I've loved from the get-go. A few weeks ago, the coach discovered I was good at playing goalie. In the semi-final round of our last game, he put me in the goal at the last quarter. We won 1-0, and the coach was proud of his decision. Now it's final game day, and I'm wondering if the coach will do the same thing. I find the stress overwhelming.
It turned out the final game was also close, and the coach did indeed put me in the goal in the last quarter. The other team had a strong offense and pounded at the goal, again and again. My nine-year old body stretched and dove, saving one shot after the other. The referee blew the final whistle, and I walked off the field shaking. As my other teammates rejoiced, I walked over to my mom and said, "I don't ever want to play goalie again." And I didn't. Even though the team had won, the pressure I'd placed on myself had been so great that I never wanted to go through it again.
Today I'm a musician, and anxiety comes with most performances. Thankfully, in the years since that soccer game, I've developed a few tricks to keep my nerves in check. Teaching piano to children now, I often recognize in my pupils the same crippling anxiety that caused me to quit playing goalie all those years ago.
In my chapter book, The Scruffins, the main character, Mavis, is overwhelmed by her nerves when, unprepared and inexperienced, she performs before a group and freezes. Distressed after, and on the verge of quitting music altogether, she meets a band of compassionate bluegrass crickets that prepare her for her next performance and help her to conquer her fear.
Life is full of terrifying moments, large and small, and being afraid is part of being alive. Running from one's fears won't make them go away. In fact -- I learned the hard way -- it only makes them larger. My book teaches children to be brave, to play the game or the piano and not to worry about winning or performing, but just doing their best and having fun in the process.
Find out more information about The Scruffins here.