In mijos on August 12, 2008 at 9:50 pm

When I was just a wee lad I played Little League baseball in San Diego. I played all of ONE season. Yes, one season. That season, I played right field. I got to bat 20 times; each time I got up to bat, I was afraid of the ball coming at me at what seemed to be 1,000 mph, and I just stood there. Never swinging. So I struck out 11 times and walked 9 times. How the hell do I remember all this after 30+ years? It had that kind of affect on me. Not a good affect, either. Obviously, because I never played that particular sport again. Sure, I played softball in the infamous LA and San Diego architectural leagues of the late 80s and early 90s (remember those? Of course you do!), but obviously I had grown up and wasn’t nearly afraid of the ball coming at me when I was at the plate. Of course, in softball the pitch is like a tropical vacation compared to a baseball pitch.

Now it’s a new century and I have kids and they’re starting to get old enough to play sports. Which I’ve always wondered about. Seriously, the only team sport I’ve ever truly enjoyed has been ice hockey, and I didn’t start playing that until I was in my mid 30s. Before that I played a lot of tennis, but those are the only two sports I’ve truly loved enough to participate in for any length of time. So I’ve always wondered if my kids had the sports gene in them or not. Obviously, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not going to be the kind of dad who forces sport on his kids (although I did make them both take ice skating lessons a couple of years ago, which didn’t stick); I’d honestly rather have them be intelligent, compassionate human beings than be athletic. But I’m also willing to follow and explore their leanings with them. That’s what good fathers do, isn’t it?

My youngest son, the G-Man, has shown great interest in soccer from time to time. So just to see if his interest is truly real, I decided I’d sign him up for summer soccer at my local YMCA. Well, okay, not local, because we in central Denver don’t really have a “local” YMCA with a soccer field. As usual with things like this, we looked to our neighboring suburban counties for better recreational facilities than the ones we have here in the city. So I signed him up at the Arvada YMCA, which is about 15 minutes from my house, out in Jefferson County. I signed him up on-line, because that’s how I roll, and when you sign up there’s a little box you can check to volunteer. I thought to myself, “Sure, I’ll volunteer to help out somehow; I have to take him to the field anyway, so I might as well help out somehow.” I thought maybe I could pass out snacks or soccer balls or ties shoes or something, ya know?

Once the time drew near for summer soccer to start, I went on-line (remember? That’s how I roll) to check the schedule, and I find the G-Man’s name, and he’s on Team 3, and Team 3’s coach is (wait for it) Jeff C. Wait, what? Me? I’m the freaking coach? Um, this is a bad idea. I know all of NOTHING about soccer. So I sent the Y coordinator an e-mail explaining that, “I’ve never played soccer and I don’t know the rules of soccer; can I be an assistant or something?” He wrote back, “We’re very short on coaches. You’ll do fine.” That gives you a lot of faith in the system, doesn’t it? Some yahoo checks a volunteer box and you’re willing to give him a whole team of 5 year olds for a whole season? Okaaaaaaaay. So I wrote back, “Oh, all right. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ve taught theater games to kindergartners before. If I get stuck, I’ll just start making them do theater games.” He thought that was funny. So apparently I got the job.

So I set out to take on my new position with gusto normally reserved for a root canal. They’re similar, right? I mean, when it’s over, it will have been great. And there will be little blood. But at the same time, it could be painful during the process. My biggest worry, honestly, was that I’d have overly competitive parents who wouldn’t like anything I did. Which I wouldn’t enjoy. I don’t really enjoy brawling with somebody’s dad on an artificial turf soccer field. If it were real Kentucky bluegrass, I could probably enjoy it. It doesn’t hurt the knees nearly as much. Anyway, I set out to mitigate that from the beginning. I sent out an e-mail explaining to the team parents that all I really wanted to do with this was instill a love of sport in the children (something I obviously didn’t get until I was in my late 20s) and for the kids to have fun. Seriously, in a U-6 league at a YMCA, there are no goalies and no score keeping. So it’s obvious the major goal is to have fun. And I was bound and determined that my kid and all the kids on the team would at least be exposed to the notion that sports are fun.

I went online and downloaded all kinds of great games and exercises for the kids to play. At our first practice, I had them play “Red Light Green Light” with soccer balls and a parent as the caller, which was cool. I also discovered that their favorite game to play is a game called “Islands and Sharks,” where you set up cones to create 3 islands and you put a bunch of parents between the islands and when you blow the whistle, the kids have to dribble their soccer ball to a different island while the sharks (parents) try to kick the balls away from the kids. It’s a very cool game and the kids started asking for it at each practice, so I used it as a bit of a reward. “First we’ll do this much more serious exercise, then we’ll spend the last 15 minutes of practice playing ‘Islands and Sharks.’” They loved it. And the parents got to be involved and play with their kids which made the whole experience better for everybody. In theory, anyway.

I ended up with 4 boys and 4 girls and, as always at this age, the girls were much better than the boys at the game. Sometimes I’d pit the girls against the boys in things and the girls would win 80% of the time. The same phenomena happens in Drama Club: most of the kids who get it are girls. Say what you want, boys, but at that age girls are generally better put together than boys. The girls work together, they communicate, and they’re competitive. The boys, on the other hand, could be found standing around looking up at the sky from time to time while the girls were beating them at whatever game was going on. “Look, a dragonfly!”

Each week we had one practice on Monday and a game on Saturday morning. Which kills any notion of getting out of town for a summer weekend, let me tell you. That’s one unintentional by-product of being the coach that caught me unaware. “You mean I have to be there EVERY Saturday?” I had one dad cover for me one week when we had a vacation planned, but otherwise The G-Man and I were there every time. Which, ultimately, was worth it, really. The Y puts forth all these rules for games for kindergartners; you’re supposed to have 8 minute quarters with breaks and a halftime and blahblahblah…I studied it a little, but I thought I’d show up for the first game and just follow along, hoping that the other coach knew what he was doing. Well, as it turns out, the other team had 2 coaches, and they’d all been together for a couple of years. And they didn’t really follow the rules. “Let’s just start and we’ll take water breaks when necessary.” “Oh, okay. That sounds good.” That’s kind of how the whole league went; we’d just start and play. Once in a while we’d call halftime. I had 8 kids on my team, so it was easy to swap kids in and out for water breaks during the game. Honestly, much of the time during games I was more worried about making sure my kids were hydrated than how they were playing. It’s been a hot, hot summer.

And I really thought there were more rules to soccer. Okay, so there are, but we didn’t really follow them. “Um, the ball’s out of bounds.” “Let’s let them play it.” “Oh, okay.” I’m telling you, I started the league as a by-the-books serious coach and I ended it like a drunken sailor on shore leave. “Just play, kids. I’ll be over here with my whiskey and my internet porn.”

At the first game, we pretty much were owned by the team with 2 coaches, as they have this one kid who’s like the Terminator of kindergarten soccer. This little dude wouldn’t stop running until he had scored, seriously. And he must have scored 5 times that first game. So at the practice after that, I was worried about how my team felt. I mean it’s the adult thing to think, right? They must be upset; they just got their asses kicked. So I started off practice 2 with a question and answer session. “What did you like about the game?” The one kid I was really worried about beamed at me and said, “I scored a goal.” “What didn’t you like about the game?” “Nothing. Because I scored a goal.” There ya go. My adult fears were groundless.

Each week, I had my team come up with a new name for Team 3 before the game started. I figured it’d be a good way to have fun with it and create camaraderie among the players. So the girls came up with team names like, “The Sun,” and “The Wind,” and “Honeybees.” The boys? “Indiana Jones.” “The Rockets.” “The Dragonflies.” I think one boy even threw out “The Darth Vaders” once, but I didn’t take it. Probably because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t hear him.

And it’s really funny to see your 5 year old develop a rivalry with another 5 year old. There was a team with a kid named Tyler on it that we played a couple of times. My son, The G-Man, was playing hard (which wasn’t his usual MO – he spent a lot time tending to the dragonflies) during a game with Tyler’s team and got tangled up with Tyler and there was some pushing and shoving and falling down and such. After the game, G-Man said, “Tyler’s a rough player. I don’t like him.” After that, every Saturday morning, the G-Man would wake up and say, “I hope we’re not playing Tyler’s team today.”

One of my favorite moments of the season: I always tried to be positive with the kids. “Good job.” “Nice kick.” Sometimes, it’s like trying to shore up the Titanic. “Hey, that was, uh, really good hustle when the other team scored those 8 goals.” No, it was never that bad. But sometimes I had to find positive things to say in the face of negative things happening. And I always told them “good job.” So, during one game, the ball went out of bounds, and somebody on the sidelines kicked it back in and I heard one of my girls say, “Good job, Grandma!” I was nearly on the artificial turf LMFAO.

As far as psycho parents go….there weren’t any. In fact, this group of parents was like a dream come true. I went in expecting a coven of Beezlebubs; instead, I got a whole flock of Glindas (the good witch). They were nice, they volunteered to bring snacks, and they had good kids. Another one of my favorite moment of the season went like this: After a game, one of the kids’ grandparents came up to me. This man was obviously a Navy man, based on his aircraft carrier hat and his Aviator sunglasses, which he wore to every game. And before you jump down my throat for stereotyping a Navy man based on his fashion, understand that my dad was a Navy man. It’s not a stereotype; it’s a uniform. Anyway, Navy man comes up to me and says, with a Navy demeanor, “Coach, I really like what you’re doing out there.” “Um, thank you, sir.” Yeah, I called him ‘sir.’ Again, I come from a Navy family. If a Navy man addresses you, you call him ‘sir.’ Then again, I haven’t called a Navy man ‘sir’ in 30 years; maybe this man caught me off guard a little. Maybe I was a little intimidated at the thought of having a Navy man on the sidelines judging my rookie soccer coaching techniques. Anyway, I said, “Um, thank you, sir.” And he said, “I like what you’re doing. And I don’t know how you keep track of all those substitutions of the kids during games, but it’s perfect.” “Um, wow, honestly, sir, I’m just making it up as I go.” “Well, we can’t tell. Keep it up.” Validation from a Navy man must mean a lot to me, as I had a smile on face for the rest of that day.

Towards the end of the season, one of the mothers came up to me after a practice and asked, “Are you coaching next season?” I pondered it for a moment. Am I? Has this been any more difficult than teaching Drama Club at my local elementary school? More importantly, has it been any less rewarding? No; in fact, it’s as rewarding. And my son seems to enjoy it. “Yes, I’ll be coaching again.” “Good. I’m going to sign my son up again and request that you be his coach again.” “Wow. Thanks.” “You’re a MUCH better coach than the yahoo coach he had last season.” Damn, will you stop it already? I’m going to get a big head!

So I’m coaching again next season. With my son and two other boys coming back to the team (many of the kids are moving up a league, as they’re entering first grade). I’ve ordered a couple of coaching books to help, and I plan on trying to get the kids to pass to each other, because if they can spread out and pass to each other it’ll look less like a swarm of bees chasing a ball and they’ll score many, many more goals. We’ll see how that goes. I think, ultimately, the kids had a lot of fun and, hopefully, they learned that sports can be fun. And maybe they’ll all play another season of soccer before they get to their mid 30s. If that’s all that happens because of this, I will have done my job. And it will have been worth every Saturday I put into it.

  1. Congrats on breaking the blog drought! Nice new look too.

    Good job, Coach!

  2. The “Good job, Grandma!” thing cracked me up. Glad you had so much fun coaching. 🙂

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