Kicking and Screaming
It was the day for which my husband and I had been waiting for weeks. Rain cancellation after rain cancellation, and we'd finally gotten to the last soccer game in a season of complete and utter stress and disappointment.
The season had started off interestingly. After a really great season at our local YMCA, we'd decided to sign our seven-year-old son up to play with the league affiliated with our school district/area. We'd heard horror stories of two grueling practices a week and coaches griping out parents for missing a practice for vacation. But, we'd also heard enough good things, and saw how many of our son's neighbor friends were playing, that we thought it was time to make the shift so he could play with more of the kids he knows from school.
Then, just weeks before the practices were to begin, we get that fateful call that would change our lives entirely. There were no spots on the current neighborhood team, but enough people to form a new team. The only problem? No coach. No parent was willing to step up and take the roll.
I am sure you can guess what happened next. My husband, who has played years of soccer and loves the sport, begrudgingly agreed to coach. Our son had missed the sign-ups for his team with the Y and if he had not coached they would not have had a team--or so the soccer officials would have us BELIEVE. (I have since talked to several parents who were coaching and were fed the exact same line.)
The beginning of the season looked hopeful. There were several kids whose parents had said they'd played several seasons before. The parents were friendly and the kids all got along immediately. My son, after wallowing a bit in the defeat of his suggested team name, was excited about his Dad coaching.
And, then the pretty picture began to fade. And, folks, it crumbled faster than a free grocery store cookie left out all day. (Not that I'd let my kids eat those things, mind you.)
The kids were sweet and nice, but no one had played in this competitive league. And, as it turns out, some of the most "seasoned" players on paper, were actually clueless about the rules of the game and so were their parents.
We had the team trouble-maker, who went about bullying and pushing the other kids around and refusing to do the drills. We had the guy who offered to be the "assistant coach" (who in fact was the troubled boy's father) who basically did nothing to help at all, especially not with his out of control son.
And, then we started our games. And, quite frankly, we stunk. We got SMOKED every game. My son, who was on a hot streak in his previous season and began scoring goals, was nowhere to be found. Aliens had abducted the child and replaced him with a boy who cried every time he fell claiming he was pushed, who ran the opposite way when the ball came near him, and who acted as if the last thing he ever wanted to do was score a goal.
And, it killed us completely. My husband and I both love sports. However, we refuse to be "those parents" who live out their failed sporting dreams through their child. But, I have to admit, this season we came dangerously close to that.
There is nothing harder than knowing your child has the potential to be the team's star player, and watching them throw it all away. My son could have had a stellar season and won the admiration of all his new friends. He could have saved our team many agonizing losses. And, he chose to not try. And, as a parent AND a coach, how does one deal with that? How do you cope with knowing that if your child would just step into that role that they're completely capable of filling, that it would be the confidence boost they need so desperately?
We did not handle it very well, unfortunately. I lectured him after almost every game about how he needed to do his best and he was an example to his teammates being the coach's son. I told him he was blowing his chance to shine. Other times I sat silent, feeling upset and (as hard as it is to say) embarrassed by my son's playing on the field. The worst thing in the world for two parents who strive to be respected as incredibly hard-working people, is to watch the opposite come out in their child.
These are all things I'm not proud of, but am willing to admit here. The season trudged on and my husband vowed many a post-game discussion that he'd NEVER AGAIN coach. We did not sign my son up for basketball because he continued to refuse to try. And, every week he'd tell us he was going to do better the next time. We even told him he might not play soccer again for a long time, if he continued to let his team down. Because in our minds, why be there unless you play hard AND have fun. In our mind, you can't have fun UNLESS you play hard!
But, we were wrong. My son had a great time with his friends. He loved his team and really continued to not give a flip about whether he ever touched the ball. We had other tribulations, including a stand-off with the troubled boy when he refused to leave the field during a game, parents who refused to show up to practices on time and flaked on bringing their kids to games, and lots of rainouts that stretched our season to infinity.
My husband counted down the games, dreading each one because of the slaughtering he knew they'd experience. These were sweet boys who just didn't really know how to score and it was hard to see their disappointment when goal after goal was scored on them. The parents became increasingly disappointed that our team could never win, never really expressing frustration with the coaching, but we had to wonder if they blamed my husband.
And, then we came to today--our final game and the end-of-the-season team party. And, what happened next, I could have never predicted.
Our team PLAYED GREAT! The kids showed up ready to listen. The boys that I'd watched shy away from stealing a ball all season, went after it. Kids who had never scored, took it and socked it in the goal. At halftime, we were tied at three goals a piece! Tied! We had lost some games without scoring or only scoring a single goal to their high numbers.
My son tried more during the first half, and on a fluke almost scored in the second half even. In the end, our team just barely lost thanks to their opponents amazing star player who scored 5 out of their 6 goals. And, we left for our team party feeling like, FINALLY we didn't feel completely frustrated after a game.
And, the team party was even better. The kids played and we handed out trophies. The parents gave my husband a nice card and a gift certificate to the mall. We visited and enjoyed getting to know them all better and be in a social setting rather than on the field. As my husband handed out trophies, parents asked to get his picture with their kids.
And, then...another fateful question came his way.
Would he coach the team again in the Spring?
One week ago, my husband might have boldly answer "Oh, HELL no!" to that question. But, there he was, gift card in hand and eager parents beckoning. Children in grubby soccer uniforms batted their eyes his way and, from my vantage point across the room with my wild toddler, I saw him shifting in his chair. I didn't get to hear his response, but I wondered...could he be actually considering doing this again?
Later on, in the car I asked him what he'd told the parents and he paused.
"Did you actually TELL THEM YOU WOULD COACH AGAIN?" I asked.Case closed. We began talking about how the Spring season was going to be so much better because the kids knew each other and could build upon this season. We speculated how we might could lose our disruptive player and pick up a few other good ones. My husband talked about how, next season he would work more one-on-one with my son and make it a successful season for him no matter what. Something tells me that we may need to rent this movie very soon, what do you think?
"Well," he sighed. "I told them I would think about it."
P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute."
And, friends, that couldn't be more true. Especially, when you hand that sucker a bag of soccer balls, a clip board, and a group of little boys with adoring smiles and grass stains on their t-shirts.