“Daddy, I cannot wait for tomorrow,” says my five year old little girl from the back seat. My mind quickly runs through tomorrow’s schedule. I cannot find any big events on my radar, but that doesn't mean anything. After all, I have come to accept that I am the last to know when anything happens in the family. So I assume I have just forgotten something.
“Oh yeah sweetheart, why? What’s tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow I have soccer practice and my coach is my DADDY!”
Ah yes, I forgot: U6 soccer practice.
I have come to see that coaching any youth sport is a rite of passage for any adult with children. I am proud to say that I did two years coaching my son’s U8 soccer team. The first year was fun. Now I know the cardinal rule is that we don’t really keep track of wins and losses – but that year we won almost every game. The reason: obviously it was the coaching. I had visions that I had missed my calling and that the entire U8 youth soccer enterprise would soon be calling me, asking me for my coaching secrets. First U8. Then U10. Then college. And then the pros. It was all laid out before me: Money. Fame. Fortune.
And then year two.
Year two consisted of a team that scored one goal. Not one goal per game. No – one goal the entire season. The other teams? They scored goals on us at will. In fact, my team would get excited and high five when the other team missed our net. They would jump and cheer as one of them eagerly ran over to get the ball and hand it to the referee. I think we set the U8 record for speed in which a goal was allowed when the other team took the soccer ball, went down the field and scored in under six seconds because my defense had found a frog on the field and my goalie had become tangled in the meshing of the net, which required a good five minutes of game stoppage as well as my repressed skills with a Rubix cube to get him out.
They were the nicest kids you ever met, though. They shared that soccer ball with the other team freely. If someone from other team rushed towards the ball at the same time, they would stop and let the other player take it. One time, two of my players were on a break-away. The other team’s goalie was out of the net and the two of them were headed for a score. I was pumped. The parents on the sidelines were euphoric with expectation of the imminent goal. Then one of my players on the break-away fell. The other one, being a true friend and teammate, stopped, walked over to his injured pal, asked him about his health and well-being for a while, and then helped him up. They hugged they way little kids do and the entire team congregated around them to make sure everyone was felling fine. Granted, the entire other team had by then regrouped, taken the ball, and gone back down the field to score on our now empty net because my goalie became fascinated by the airplane in the sky, but it was a touching scene and we all left feeling a Norman Rockwell moment.
So, when my son moved up to U10, I assumed my career was over. I had done my fair share. So as he went on to U10 and she went on to U6, I felt I had earned the right to relax. So I watched my little girl practice for two weeks, comforted in the fact that it was someone else’s turn.
But then the coach’s assistant stopped coming. He missed one practice, and then another. Then, he did not show up for a game. So, there I stood like a deer in the headlights of a car, watching my daughter’s coach move seemingly in slow motion towards me. And I knew what was coming:
“Tim, do you mind being my assistant coach?”
Thursdays are when we have practices, but Saturdays are what I enjoy the most. In U6 soccer, the team is split into two with both teams playing simultaneously. I find myself typically with my daughter and three other little girls. And this has brought my soccer coaching experience to a whole other level.
“Okay girls, get the ball. Get it.”
“Coach, my Daddy has Pop-Tarts waiting for me. I love Pop-Tarts. Do you like Pop-Tarts Coach Tim?”
“Yes, I like Pop-Tarts but let’s focus on the game. Suzy, where is the ball? Point to the ball Suzy. No, not any ball. The ball we are playing with. Where is our ball?" ... and the other team scored.
“Coach Tim – my shoe is untied. Can you tie my shoe?”
“Yes. Come here. Wait – you too? Your shoe is untied? AND yours? How did all of your shoes become untied at the exact same time?" ... and the other team scored.
"Girls: don’t fall on the ground please. Come on. Yes, I liked how you all fell at the same time. Very funny. No. No snow angels on the grass please. Please? Let's get up. Look! – the other team is coming by you with the ball and ..." and they scored again.
“Coach Tim – when the game is over, guess where I am going? Guess? Guess? I am going to my Gammy’s. She is making hot dogs.”
“She is? That’s awesome. Could we try to kick the ball first though? Good job. Good kick. But next time, let's try kicking the ball to someone on your team." ... and the other team scored.
“Coach Tim? Coach Tim? Coach Tim?”
“Coach Tim, can I have a high five?”
“Well, let’s not do high fives when the game is going on let’s do them when…" and the other team scored.
And so it goes. And it all must look so funny: four tiny girls, with hair pulled back into various forms of pony-tails and me running frantically around, looking like some drunken giant.
But then the girls score, and I fall into Steve Martin from Parenthood mode and I jump and I clap and I am honestly excited for them. Each one will turn around, almost unsure of what just happened, but each will have a wry smile on her face as if wondering if it is okay to have scored and hurt the other team’s feelings. But my smile and clapping tells her that she did well and that she should be proud.
At that point, the whole team will rush over to me:
“Coach Tim! Coach Tim! Coach Tim: I scored a goal.”
“I know. I know. You did awesome.”
“Can I have a high five?”
“Me too Coach Tim!”
“Me too! Me too!”
“Sure you can. Yes. Yes. You can all have high fives. Yes OUCH. You hurt my hand. Yup. It is stinging. But there is a game going…" and the other team just scored.
“I need to do pee!”’
Yet, when the game is over and we walk back to the car, I am so proud of my little girl. She hustled and she tried and she scored two goals. She became better friends with the girls on her team and made friends with the kids on the other. But more importantly, she smiled the whole time.
So as she skips back to the car, she grabs my hand and asks:
“Daddy, do we have practice tomorrow?
"No pumpkin, not until Thursday.”
“That’s great because then I have practice with my DADDY!” And she hugs me. And it is all worth it.