I desperately try to stop the plates from cascading to the floor, using my leg to balance myself against the wall as I duck back and forth. The plates teeter wildly in my hands and two topple from top of the pile and hurtle toward the floor. I shoot out a hand and catch both plates between my fingers. I can’t believe I just pulled that off! Call me ninja-waiter!

“Wow, great catch!” Rose says.

I put the plates down with a grin. 

“Maybe I should be a goalie,” I smile.

The rest of the night flies by smoothly, but I’m exhausted as we finish up. 

“The Aces beat the Colts,” Rose says, “and we’re playing the Colts tomorrow.” 

As she looks at me I can see her realize her mistake. 

“Well I mean, you could still come and watch,” she says awkwardly.

“I’ll be practicing with a pro,” I smile, “but good luck.”

Rose gives me a puzzled look, but I’m not ready to tell her about the Professor yet. That’s my secret for now.

“Well maybe we can work on our geometry project together,” Rose says nonchalantly.

I shrug coolly and nod.

I manage to keep up the act until I’m out the door and then I break into a huge smile.

I’d planned to leave the geometry project to the last day of holidays, but if it means spending time with Rose then I’ll definitely give doing a project early a try. OK so it isn’t a proper date, its just homework, but still!

I wake up early the next morning for my first training session with the Professor. The chickens are scratching and clucking in their coop as I make my way out the door and toward the empty field at the edge of Du Noon. The field borders on the swampy, marshland in front of Du Noon. It’s not ideal for soccer training as it’s muddy and full of ditches, but other than the dirt roads, it’s the only place to practice.

“I’m going to be training with a real pro, Ronaldo,” I shout to Ronaldo as we race down toward where the Professor is waiting for us. Ronaldo barks his encouragement.

The Professor is dressed in a long red overcoat and is sporting a hat with a feather in it. His little radio is tucked under his arm.

“What’s the first rule of success at any sport?” the Professor asks me straight away. 

“Win?” I guess.

The Professor shakes his head. “Fitness, fitness, fitness! Ten times around the field. I’m timing you.”

I run through the mud quickly at first, but gradually slow my pace. After my tenth round I stop and hunch down breathing heavily – a dirty but happy Ronaldo runs over and jumps into my lap.

“I thought you were going to teach me how to play?” I gasp once I almost have my breath back, “how about you teach me how to do a bicycle kick instead of how to run around a field?”

The Professor takes off his hat and frowns down at me.

“Soccer is one of the most physical sports in the world,” he says “if you can’t commit to improving your fitness, I can’t be your coach.”

Image: 10b Travelling, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Help Nathi get fitter. Name three other exercises that he could do to help him with his training.