Between the Whistles

I really wish I had a video of this so it would make more sense.

My four-year-old has just begun her first season soccer. Pink athletic socks pulled high up over little girl legs, new to shin guards. Her feet are unfamiliar in cleats,but she wears them anyway because they are part of the uniform. With her daddy as the coach, Naomi had first pick of the jerseys; she picked number “4” because well, she’s four.

Up until this past week the team has consisted of four little girls with very little experience all chasing after a tiny, pink soccer ball. Except for trying not to fall down or touch the ball with their hands, they have very little skill. Naomi, even though she is the youngest on the team, she is by a few inches the tallest.

Please always take a mother’s boast of her own child’s skill with a grain of salt, but hear me out on this one: compared to the other beginners just like herself, Naomi seems to have some innate skill and drive. She runs after the ball when the other girls hang back. She connects with it, swerves around pushy Number 3 on the opposing team and makes it into the goal. I’m actually quite amazed.

But here’s the kicker: between plays, she bursts into tears.

Every single time.

She’s over-the-top, tears-down-the-cheeks bawling. She’s not asking to come out or stop playing. She’s not whining because she’s tired. She’s all-out crying as soon as a corner kick or throw in is required.

{And this is where I wish I had a video so that you can really see what I mean.}

I’m realizing that the between whistle sobbing might just be a release of energy. Her body and her skill are growing up. There is a distinct “leaps and bounds” quality to her current development. She’s beginning to read, learning how to express herself with longer words and more complex sentences. She’s learning how to get along with other children in groups.

But she’s also still a baby. She doesn’t know what to do with the big feelings she has: being asked to perform under some pressure, receiving the cheers from the parents and grandparents when she scores a goal.

To be honest, beside that I really don’t know exactly why she cries between plays. And believe me, it breaks my mama-heart to watch her in tears. But I also watch her face steel up in determination as the whistle blows and she goes after the ball with all that she has. Something in her just clicks in to the game. She connects, scores and shouts in excitement.

Seeing her joy in the accomplishment makes me think that maybe it’s worth the between-the-whistle tears. Even for her. She loves the game, even at four.

I’m wondering if the pain, in between the joy, isn’t worth it for all of us. If we knew what was around the next corner, that the whistle would blow and we would click-in to what we were born to do, race at it with all of our might and experience wonderful joy as a result, maybe the pain and hurt in getting there wouldn’t be so bad.

I’m wondering.

What do you think? Would the in-between times be easier if we could trust the “whistle” would blow soon?


  1. says

    As someone who just figured out how much bitterness and wasted time comes with living in unforgiveness toward others… My whistle has just blown and I am back in the game with more fervency. I am excited. I’ve had revival. and i know that the whistle will blow again and I will hit another rough spot in my trail but I know armed with new knowledge and understanding, I will be stronger and hope to handle it better so that time will be shorter.
    What a cutie-pie little girl you have. and I love that everything is pink for that little girls team! even down to the ball! (and I don’t particularly like pink… but that was just too cute.)

  2. Donna says

    This made me think of Proverbs 31:25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; She can laugh at the days to come. The second part is a struggle. I want to worry and prepare. If only I could turn off the worry at the sound of a whistle! Hopefully this will go away with time for your child. A friend’s 17 year old daughter has run cross country for six years. She still gets physically sick before the start of every meet. She is simply intense. And by the way, she holds state records and wins more often than not. :)

  3. says

    Our Grandson played soccer and the coach warned everyone that the parents need to cool it because the kids couldn’t get the fact that the ball goes in the net. They were kicking the ball, just kicking it anywhere. So, every time he kicked the ball, he went to the coach and said he wanted to sit out.

    Evidently the only thing our son and daughter-in-law figured it out, his motor skills weren’t understanding “calls” from the coach. (Sorry Chad) – anyway they took him out of soccer.
    I always thought (Grandma brag) he was the only one that figured out the ball goes into the net. Your blog is so precious. Thanks for sharing.

  4. says

    i use to “cry between plays” (worship leading, event planning, times of community). i thrived on being actively involved in the game. when i wasn’t in the game i felt empty (this might explain what i was experiencing during maycation when i was down. hmm, and ahah moment here!).
    in hindsight i realize all those things were crutches for me. i gripped them tightly for my support. in the past 6 months they have been gently stripped away from me.
    i look back and see that i was coming to God with my hands extended, saying fill me, BUT he couldn’t because my hands were filled with this that and too much of the other. now empty of that, he can fill, does fill me.
    i missed him. his filling keeps me content, even joyful between plays.

  5. says

    Wow, what a beautiful and poignant analogy! Yes, indeed life (or soccer) can be overwhelming with sounds, distractions, emotions, demands for focus, pressures, and expectations and sometimes all you can do is cry when you get a lull (or the whistle)to stop and catch your breath. The wonderful thing is that just as your daughter is anticipating the “whistle blow” to restart the action (accomplishment, excitement) of the game, we also move to the next play or call. Yes, I think anticipating the next thing is part of the reason we can release emotion “between the whisles” Great post, Sarah!

  6. Stacey says

    Naomi’s game ends. She must know she only needs to hold it together for the duration of the game; she vents and then she can go back. What happens in life? When you seem stuck in cycles of “Am I doing it? Will I get hurt? Is everyone really counting on ME?” and then “Oh my goodness, this is too much! I’m coming undone!”? Is this the tension that Paul describes when he uses the metaphor of the athlete running the race of faith? Does this mean that when I’m broken down and desperate, I’m still OK?

    • Sarah Markley says

      stacey – that’s a really great thought. i love that connection – about paul’s tension and the feeling that everything is coming undone.

      and yes, i think that even when we are broken down and desperate we are still okay. and my metaphor isn’t perfect (they never are) but in keeping with it, it’s okay to cry sometimes. And it’s okay to cry a lot.

      to feel fear, to experience the pain — it’s okay. but when we are called to do what we have to do, we need to remember who we are and what power we’ve been given to complete our tasks.

      really great thoughts, stacey. =)

  7. says

    oh definitely! it again reminds me of the book Hinds Feet on High Places….the main character goes thru so much to get to the high places…the tears, pain, suffering was all worth it in the end…

  8. says

    Amazing post!I cry (a lot) in between whistles. It can be so hard to trust that the whistle is coming and goodness is just around the bend. But the tears get me through and make me stronger each and every time. Without pain and sorrow there would be no joy. Ahhh…Sweet and Perfect Joy!

  9. says

    I remember when Jeremiah coached Aliyah, it was so awesome to see them on the field together.

    If only we all could express ourselves like your daughter. I think we would all be a little less stressed if we just cried it out!! We’d get a lot of stares but we’d feel a whole lot better.

  10. Jessica says

    That’s me today. Crying between the whistles. I really wish it would blow again…blow my life right back to me. Blow my husband back to me. Blow this life filled with yucky stuff away and bring back the good one. :)
    Thanks for the great words and gentle reminders to hang on until the whistle blows again.

  11. says

    Wow this is an interesting post. And I think there’s a little 4-yo inside me that just wants to cry between Sundays sometimes. I hold it together when it’s game time. I stand under the pressure. But then, when the church service is over, I’m either flying high from adrenaline or I’m crashing from exhaustion. Depends on the Sunday. Depends on what’s going on that day. But the psychological tax is significant.

  12. Craig says

    Stupid whistles: bossy, demanding, shrill. Do this. Do that. You fouled again dummy. Oh stop all the whining or I’ll blow louder next time!

    1. First and foremost is the continuing course on learning to write from the heart, and be brilliantly subtle – not enough room here to fit the enormous thank you I feel.

    2.“feet unfamiliar in cleats, but she wears them anyway…part of the uniform.” Be flexible, learn the new ways, don’t worry about being so uncomfortable. That feeling you wrote about – about not lurking – and the fear, and the thrill – uncomfy cleats – uncomfy cleats.

    3.‘over-the-top, tears-down-the-cheeks bawling” So much new to learn, so unfit for the task. The field is so big. I’m just little number 4. I don’t understand. I can’t do this. The stupid ball seeks my hands like birds find clean cars. And why all the lines, and why all the rules … oh … wait … the whistle … ok … just kick the ball…stay away from number 3.

    Reading, learning, prepping, practicing, writing more like this every day, – then I’ll blog – only then I’ll blog – seriously – too grateful for words Sarah.

  13. says

    Little note to Craig . . .blog now! I want to read already! :)

    Reading in Matthew about watching for Jesus, being found doing what He has asked us to do while we wait and watch. Trusting He is coming back again. Knowing that He (like a Holy Spirit coach) is with us each day, helping us. Thinking about the whistle blows and the trumpet calls. And so glad we get to cry when we need to!

    Thank you Sarah for sharing Jesus with us today, and your sweet girl!

  14. says

    i think it absolutely would be easier…but i think the Lord keeps it hidden sometimes when/where/how the whistle is going to blow so that we will trust Him more. if we know when the whistle is going to blow, then we merely have to get to that day or that moment where we know there will be relief from the pain.

    but when we don’t know when the whistle is going to blow, in the midst of the pain and despair, we have to cling to the Lord. trust that He knows what He is doing. that it is for our good.

    where i am, i know one day the whistle is going to blow. until that moment, i have to trust and cling to the One who is holding the whistle.

  15. says

    what a great blog post! at 38 i am finally learning that it’s ok to cry between plays. it does not mean that i give up, or that i am weak – it just shows that i care, that i feel, that i love.

    whether you cry or not between plays, when you are not following God the time between plays just drags on and on in what seems like a never-ending moment of sadness and fear. so much so we end up blowing the whistle ourselves to get back into the game…at least if we are doing something…its better than nothing (its what we tell ourselves).

    only now am i learning that when we blow the whistle, and its not Gods time the feeling between plays does not go away and it flows over into the play.

    i wish i could express this more, but allowing yourself the time between plays to cry is beautiful, and allowing God to blow the whistle is priceless and is the only way his strength will persevere.

  16. says

    i cry between plays, alot.


    and i am on the road to learning that this life is just a little like that.

    i think it’s definitely worth it.

  17. says

    Today was definitely a crying inbetween whistles sort of day. And definitely the sort of day where I was tired of the waiting for that whistle to blow. But the reminder that it will blow encouraged me, somehow. Thanks for sharing that.

  18. says

    love this…love naomi…love you!

    i think you really captured her heart…for there is a real mystery there, even if it’s only a 4-year-old one…

    sometimes we cry when we’re happy & when we’re sad & when we just don’t know what else to do…

    there is SO much inside us & it can come out of us in only a few ways, relatively speaking…

    it kills me too…watching her cry…but boy, does she drive for the goal!

    those are precious tears on her face!

    love you,dad

  19. Michelle Sadler says

    Wow… amazing post. Sitting in the place bewteen whistle blows this really gives me encouragement. In just a few {insert random measurement of time} eveything will be ok. All the tears and pain will be a forgotten memory. Meanwhile I will wait. “He has made everything beautiful in its time…”Ecclesiastes 3:11

  20. says

    Sometimes it’s not as easy to know that God’s foresight is truly best for me…that I don’t have to know every detail…it can drive me crazy!

    Even in that, I know that I know…He’ll blow that whistle.

    Still, those times of waiting in between…I forget to wait the way He asks me too…LOL. So glad for His grace.

  21. says

    Love, Love that sweet picture of her crying. It’s the cutest thing (in a crazy sort of way). I have a gorgeous & wonderful blonde headed 4-year-old daughter too so I completely relate! So hard to stay on the sidelines and just watch sometimes. Just a preparation for life to come I guess.

  22. kathleen says

    That was just the funniest post you’ve written, Sarah. What a trip. Funny girl, you have. You must get a kick out of her all the time, just wondering what goes on in that little blond head.

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