My good friend and colleague, Aaron, asked me how our game went last night. I respect Aaron very much as an experienced multi-sport coach, dedicated parent, and teacher who always models for his student athletes (and their parents) what good sportsmanship looks like, how to win and lose gracefully, and how to communicate expectations clearly.
So, when he saw my typical, frazzled “I’ve made it through the week” Friday morning frustration and asked about the game, I wanted to tell him that it was awesome. That every kid played hard and behaved well on the bench and learned from losing 8-0. They were not actually phased by the loss, which in second and third grade is fine and very socially appropriate. In fact, I’m not sure most of them were even aware that we were playing kids from other towns. Of the 24 on our team, maybe 7 understand the direction of the game, but they are learning. Practice goes best when they are divided into groups 5 or less. Practice goes best when everyone is moving and time passes quickly and no one grows bored. I know coaching youth sports is important, and, ultimately, this helps to grow our humans into stronger people, with coping skills, and healthy competition, and compassion, and a love of sport, etc. But when Aaron asked about the game, I wanted to say:
What part? When my request to remove newly pierced earrings made one melt down for a good 30 minutes? When my own kid during warm ups only wanted to catch frogs and then show them to each of the other 23 members of the team? When we try to make a circle and cannot? They know how to make a circle because they’ve made them all season long and our circle is more like the heartbeat of our team, jagged and all over the map. When I ask for them to “bring it in” and they choose that moment to kick balls at each other? When some of the boys just want to kick the balls away from others on THEIR own team during warmups? Or later, during the actual game, when the 10 second graders on the bench only wanted to sing loud and proud, “Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun”? Or later still when the boys were making fart noises with their hands, mouths– happier to be kings of the zerbert? Three 20 minute periods have never felt so long in my life.
Yet, after the third time of separating the individuals who keep pulling grass out of the ground and placing it ever so gently on one another’s heads or knees or water bottle and the 12th shoe I’ve tied, I am reminded of Phil Dube, a patient coach from my past, and can’t help but to smile. It had been our first year of girls’ travel soccer in Merrimack, and I think we were ten. He never raised his voice– except this one time– and we were also pulling grass out of the ground and making “bird nests” as he tried to explain offsides more clearly to us. That was over thirty years ago, yet Mr. Dube always greeted us warmly at the next practice or game even though we must have driven him insane as well. He survived, and we will too.
Our team has come a long way since pre-school, and I have to remind myself. As challenging as coaching youth soccer can be, we are lucky in a lot of ways– for field space and a recreation department that cares; for a co- coach from Scotland who knows soccer and children and organization and another with patience and time to spare; for awesome, encouraging parents who help to reign in the chaos; for high school players who help on days when they don’t have practice or a game; for only one parent –so far– who has emailed “suggestive coaching help.” This comes from a very good “I want what’s best for my kid” place in his heart, not to insult us, but, thank you, yes, we are familiar with the US Youth Soccer website, and, yes, it does have great resources.
Just like in the classroom or around the family dinner table, each of these 24 second and third graders comes with his or her own individualized lists of strengths and weaknesses which will grow and morph as they do. One day, their coaching challenges will be different and their bodies hairier and probably smellier. Not all of them will love soccer forever, but I’m hoping for at least one of mine to, because fall just wouldn’t be the same without it. For the record, I love to coach because I love the sport; but I’ll be the first to admit second and third graders are not my expertise, so if anyone believes they can be better at herding cats, then please offer yourself up to the recreation department and I’m happy to just help or be sideline support. Thank you to Stuart Anderson, Ken Watson, Geoff Krill and all those parents who jump in when we need you to.