One of my favorite childhood memories is playing on the soccer team. I wasn't a star player, but I was tough, and unflinching, which is more than I can say about myself in other areas of life, where a Scandinavian shyness kept me tongue-tied and self-doubting. Eventually, the scourge of adolescence hit, my chest ballooned, and I traded in my dirty cleats for a crimping iron and an Estee Lauder sampler kit, which has always struck me as a damn shame.
But I'm ready to suit up again after watching "Kick Like a Girl," the fast and feel-good 30-minute HBO documentary, which airs tonight at 6 p.m. (ET/PT, trailer posted below). "Kick Like a Girl" tells the story of the Mighty Cheetahs, a group of 8-year-old girls whose two-year undefeated streak left them triumphant but a bit, well, bored. So their coach (who also directed the documentary) signs them up for a challenge they didn't see coming: a season spent playing against the boys.
Predictable hand-wringing ensues: You're crazy! Girls can't play against boys! They're too tender, they'll get hurt, it's not right! But the Mighty Cheetahs forge down the field anyway, facing off against team after team of sniggering boys certain they have it made against the little powder puffs only to discover ... hey, wait a minute, these girls can actually play.
As one gobsmacked boy puts it: "We're playing girls, we're gonna cream 'em! And in the end, they creamed ... us?"
Not that the girls always cream their opponents. It's not that easy. Shins are scraped and tears are shed, though no tragedies ensue aside from the occasional sneering parents embarrassing themselves from the sidelines with such threats as, "Come awwwn, they're just girls!" But for the kids, it's a season full of the kind of lessons (for both sides) you hope every child learns when they lace up their sneakers and hit the turf: the importance of risk-taking and challenge, the folly of assuming anything about your opponent -- and the gritty, hard-won joy of good old competition.