Monday, April 24, 2006

My Little Green Dragons

I am the assistant coach of my son's soccer team, and had to stand in as coach all of last week while the real coach was out of town. We had only had two games previous, and as of yet we hadn't scored a single goal. The kids are only in kindergarten, around six years old, and the coach doesn't believe in pushing them at all because he wants them to have fun. His own son is on the team and hangs on his leg like a remora to a shark.

Last Thursday was my first practice with the kids, and I had big plans to teach them to get between the goal and the ball. There are no goalies, and only four kids play on a team. The goal is small, so if the kids could just be a little obstructive, the other team would have a hard time scoring even once. It sounds simple, but we're talking about six year olds, who get distracted if a bee flies by.

Parents are funny. I was the official stand-in coach, but as soon as the other fathers got wind of the coach's absence, every one of them had to have a hand in it. It was chaos. I didn't assert my authority because frankly I felt foolish to be arguing over something so silly. But come game day, on Saturday this weekend, I was definitely the coach, as the other fathers stayed on the sidelines.

I've listened to the kids over the first two games, and watched the other team players walk by after scoring a goal and yelling, "What's the score now? Like eight to nothing!? Ha ha ha." Jackson noticed when the coaches allowed our team to keep five on the field to balance the scales. "Hey, we have five and they only have four." I could only tell him the truth that the other team was giving us a chance to catch up. He didn't say anything more, but I saw his eyes.

Our players just fiddle around, shadow boxing while the ball whizzes around the field. Even Jackson only jogs like he missed his breakfast. The kids have been nearly dead, no enthusiasm whatsoever, and the coach always smiles and says, "Well, at least the kids had a good time."

Well I say, bull-fucking-shit.

Saturday's game started out like all the rest. The kids were hard to keep focused, but I'm allowed to be on the field with them, to guide their actions. We went down a few goals early. They had a few players that were so focused, really good, that ran all over the field uncontested. My son played back on defense and I told him to shadow the ball from side to side, and when it came close to kick the skin off it. And miraculously, as I looked back, he was doing just that. I've never seen him so determined. The other kids started playing too. I got in their ears and pushed them to run, I was yelling across the field like a general, not caring what the parents thought. I was determined to get at least one goal today. Then the second miracle happened. Shawn, the most distractible of all the kids, came alive and dribbled through the whole crowd and planted one in the middle of the goal.

Then the other kids snapped out of their trances too, and two other players did the same. At half time, one of the parents ran out to the referee, standing right next to me, and asked what the score was. She looked at me and said dutifully, "not that it matters mind you."

"You're damn right it matters," I said back. She smiled as she found out we were playing a tied game.

But then there was James. James is a portly little guy who can barely move his big body, and he is all ours. Since he can't run much, I put him on defense and told him to watch the goal. They scored on him. He looked at me with eyes almost crying and said, "I never do anything! Not against the black team, not against the blue team. Not against anybody."

"That's because you don't run kid." He looked up at me, surprised. I continued, "All you need to do is get those wheels turning and give it everything you got. I promise you that you will make things happen." Within minutes, James was facing down the other team's soccer ace, who had managed to beat everyone and was racing towards the goal. James ran right at him and kicked the ball away from him and collided solidly, and both kids fell back stunned. James looked up at the sky and thought about crying, until my big mug filled his world. "Now that is defense my little friend." He smiled. "Now get up and do that again." The ball went down the field and we scored again, and the kids all flocked around me and we slapped the high fives. James said, "Hey, what about me?" I kneeled down and held out my palm, "I saved the best for last."

We won six to five, and it was the most fun those kids, and those kids' parents have had in three games. The parents looked at me different after the game, and a few mentioned that I should have my own team next year. I have to say, it was a thrill. Who'd have thunk that coaching little kids could be so satisfying?

7 comments:

Jada's Gigi said...

How fun is that? My husband coached my son's t-ball team a hundred years ago with a similar story....my son reminded me of it just a few days ago...I said, "you remember that?" "Of course I do", he said..."I remember everything." Jackson won't forget eihter....:)

Moni said...

Sounds like all they needed was a little positive reinforcement and some instruction. Tell your son I said, "Way to Go!"

My daughter used to stand in the goal and pick flowers, stare at the clouds, say hello to the butterflies...it used to infuriate me. She played for three years and she did get a lot better. Still they look so dog-gone cute in their soccer uniforms at that age. My daughter's shin guards went up to her hips. lol Good times...good times! ;D

Bailey Stewart said...

Very "Mighty Duck"ish. Loved it. My brothers used to coach soccer. One day when my nephew was around that age he played in his first game. The kid ran down the field a couple of times and then just ran off and sat down on the sidelines. My brother went over and asked him what he was doing. "I'm tired." Brother just shook his head and ordered him back on the field. This is when they should be learning sportsmanship, team work and discipline, along with self-esteem. I think you helped with all of those that day. I loved what you told James - he (along with Jackson) will remember that forever.

Toni Anderson said...

LOL. My daughter played last year and all the girls kept stopping to pick daisies. :) I think it is great you gave them focus. Some parents are nuts though. A game ran late last year (before ours). These kids were much bigger, 12-14 year olds. This mom dragged her two tiny kids and stood in front of goal till they got off the pitch for the 5 year olds :)

Miranda said...

*Laugh* I know how distractable six-year old soccer players are. My little sister is one. I hope eventually she'll have a coach that inspires her as much as you inspired yours.

Congratulations!

magnetbabe said...

Is that a real story or a Disney movie? Seriously, that's awesome.

Kathleen said...

It's darn hard to get a bunch of six-year olds to concentrate so kudos to you!!!