Camille McGoven is a service member in Boulder.

Part of what I like to teach during the After School Program is how important both physical activity and nutrition are to a healthy lifestyle As a dietitian, it is easy for me to fall into doing a variety of nutrition and cooking classes, but it is imperative to show kids the whole picture, such as how fitness fits into the puzzle.

One day, I decided to set up a soccer game with my K-2ndgrade group. There is not a soccer team in Boulder, so I thought this would be a fun way to introduce the game to them outside of P.E.

I have played soccer for over 10 years, so I figured I had enough background to prepare for a K-2 soccer lesson. Equipped with neon orange cones for goals, a checkered soccer ball, and a shiny new whistle, I brought my energetic group outside to the almost-Spring green grass. (I’m not sure yet if things actually turn fully green Montana…)

Even though some students have been introduced to soccer basics in P.E., I thought it was best to review the rules. I gathered my little ones into a huddle and asked: “What is one of the biggest, most important rules in soccer?” I thought they would most likely say something along the lines of: “Don’t touch the ball with your hands” or “Only use your feet to kick the ball,” or even maybe, “Don’t score on your own goal.”

6 eager hands shot into the air to answer my question. I called on the kindergarten girl who looked most like she was going to burst if I didn’t call on her: “OK Jay, what do you think?” With a confident and thoughtful look on her face, she announced, “Do NOT lick the soccer ball!” Needless to say, this was not quite what I was looking for. However, what I found most surprising was that the group did not erupt into a fit of giggles. Rather, little Jay’s answer was met with nodding heads of approval by the rest of the group. We eventually established the basic soccer rules but also added  a few more Kindergarten essentials, such as “No spitting on the soccer ball.”

While attempting to coach this group of 5-8 year-olds how to navigate the game of soccer, it dawned on me that this lesson was greater than just teaching a new sport. This experience carries over into multiple facets of my service, from garden projects to menu changes; no matter how well you think you know your community or audience, don’t assume you can predict how they feel or what they think about a specific topic or idea. People will always surprise you. Sometimes this is not in a good way such as lack of attendance to a community event I am hosting. It’s the good surprises that stand out, however; from teachers stepping up to volunteer to make our Fit Kids Day a huge success to a 4th grader announcing to our food service manager that even with all of our menu changes and new additions of strange things like hummus and whole wheat cinnamon rolls, “There has not been a meal this year I haven’t liked. You are the best cook ever!”

Boulder Elementary and Middle school’s Fit Kids Day was the perfect example of this. The idea was to host a school-wide 3K and enter in the Big Sky Games Fit Kids Day by completing 30 minutes of consecutive activity as a whole school. While organizing the event, I dubbed the middle school cross country coach my advisor and together we went on to try to recruit parents and teachers to help make the event a reality. Along the way I was met comments like, “I’m worried about my class, some of the students struggle to just walk 3/4 of a mile.” Or “What about the 7th and 8th graders? How will we make sure they complete the course and don’t goof off?” While such fears might have been legitimate and a bit daunting, I was determined to make this event a success.

And it was! The entire school pulled together and made the Fit Kids Day incredible! Our students surpassed all expectations. The 7th and 8th graders even helped the K-4 grades by encouraging them along the course and jogging with the those who wanted to jog. Every student finished the course in under 45 minutes. And most had big smiles across their faces as they sprinted across the finish line! In fact, the Fit Kids Day was such a success, I had both teachers and students tell me we should do the 3K twice a year, instead of just once! Some even thought we should do it EVERY Friday!

I think there have been two important lessons learned:
1) Don’t lick the soccer ball, and
2) If you give people a chance, they will likely surprise you. In a good way.