Friday, October 17, 2014


Tonight's practice gave me a little insight into one of my players.

At the end of practice, I said, "Remember, same team.  When one of your teammates messes up, what do you say to him."

"Next time."
"Don't worry."
"You got this."

Came the replies. But then one player spoke out and said, "But you shouldn't say that."

"Why?" I asked, truly curious as to what the reasoning could be.

"Cuz it makes you weak," he replied.

And I said, "But it's just the opposite.  The other team is perfectly happy to tear you down, so it's up to your teammates to boost you up, to give you that confidence you need."

I'd like to say my words had a transformative effect one him, but I didn't see it, at least not then, not before he headed over to his father.

Where was he getting all that? I wondered because I really don't know.

And as I walked home with D to our car, we talked a bit about his conflict with this boy.  They had been going head-to-head over something, and I had poorly responded, eventually having D switch partners.

But now with D in the car, I sat down on the sidewalk at his door and told him I understood that he was having conflict and knew he was upset.  But that this other boy was getting a lot of negativity from somewhere, and so it would be our job to bring the positive.  D said he understood and would try.

And then driving home, through the ellipses of streetlights, I felt for the first time that I knew why I was brought to the Hawks because unlike the nuances of dribbling and tackling, this emotional baggage I could understand -- or if I couldn't understand, I was at least sensitive to this child's emotional plight.  Although I'm sure he -- or that voice in his head -- would consider my sensitivity weakness.

Hawks, rise.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Yellow Cards Fly

This week we faced off against the Hurricanes, yet another undefeated team.
*********Spoiler Alert: They're still undefeated.  *********

A few notable moments.

To appreciate the first, I have to tell you a little bit about the game.  The first two quarters were relatively uneventful.  They scored two goals.  Now, during the 3rd quarter, they picked things up a bit and scored three more.  That's 5-0 in case you're counting.

So imagine my surprise when in the fourth quarter, our little band of Blue Hawks rose to the occasion and scored a goal and shut out their offense.  I was so proud to see these little guys attacking the ball like the hadn't all season.  After the game, I praised the boys for their grit, their 4th quarter spunk.  We did the 2-4-6-8 cheer with pleasure, and then we did the gladhand line-em-up, good-game slaps with our heads held high.

The coach stopped to comment on a few of my players.  I told my son he should take it well since this guy had played in college.  (I hesitated a bit because I was going to say he was a pro, but that, of course, was not the case -- not sure if this rubbed him the wrong way...but...). He then proceeded to say: Yeah, see we decided to go with our B lineups in the last quarter, so we wouldn't run up the score too high. No reason to make your players feel lousy.

Yes, he actually said this aloud, and showed me his lineups just to underscore the point.

You might call that Yellow Card #1

The 2nd incident involved our own team.  Yes, our own team. I haven't told you so much about MegaDad, but suffice it to say I've got a dad who thinks HE should be coaching the team. Unfortunately, for him he's not, and even more unfortunately, his son is clearly the worse off for all the coaching he gets from this very aggressive dad.  He subscribes to the hollering, demean style of parent-coaching -- which, sadly, any of us can fall prey, too.

So at the start of the game, he was coaching his son -- not encouraging, but coaching -- telling him where to go, who to cover, what to do.   So, I call over to the sidelines to my right and say, "Hawk parents, please don't coach your kids."  Megadad turns smuggly to the other parents and says, "Well, someone has to."

Now, in my everyday life, as many of you know, I'm a fairly easy going person, tolerant, passive aggressive at most.  Never aggressive aggressive.  So when this happens, I decide I've had enough.  I'd talked to this Dad at the beginning of the year after he tried to take over a practice.

"What's going on?" I say, arms out wide.  "What are you doing?  You're challenging me on the sidelines?  What's the problem?"

"Hey, I'm not doing anything wrong.  You are not getting up in my face," he replies.

"Yes, I am, and if you keep this up, I'm going to ask the refs to eject you from the game."

"You do what you gotta do," he replies.

Of course, I have no idea if U10 AYSO refs can even do such a thing.  But I'm not backing off.

The trouble is I know I shouldn't care, and I know I shouldn't be getting in people's faces.  But I also know that I've experienced bullies before.  It's been a while since I encountered one this directly, but I remember what it's like, and for that reason, I'm not going to tolerate a parent who's basically acting like a bully to me and to my players, including his son.

Granted I'm not Mr. Perfect.  We did lose the game. We elicited the Hurricane's B team.  And I do also, from time to time, yell for my son to do things in a way I never would the other players.

But in as much as this coaching is a return to issues I thought I left behind when I stopped playing team sports, I also feel a need to make different choices than I used to make.  Not to roll over when someone kicks at me.  Not to back down.

Am I proud of what I did? No.  But did I do what I had to do in that moment.  Yes.  And I'm going to respond with the same chutzpah I ask of the players. 

I guess, I'm trying to answer the call: Coach, Rise!

(BTW, following the kids' model I think I'd have to say "Coach! Coach!" in response".)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Getting Crushed

So, you won't believe what happened. Saturday we took the field versus the undefeated Bone Crushers, and basically cleaned the soccer pitch with them, dominating them in a miraculous, unheard-of 20-0 victory.

Yeah, hard to believe.

Instead it was a 7-1 defeat, and they, of course, had the 7.  But the 1 wasn't too bad. Our first goal versus a team that had kept others scoreless.

And then there were the personal victories.  Our goalie learned what to do once he captured the ball (kicking it to the side from the far line).  We also showed uncommon (read: passive aggressive) care when their player was injured even though their coach yelled at their player to just shake it off.  Our tiniest player showed his ability to be priceless as a defender, booting the ball far into enemy territory when necessary.

We also started to play as a team, keeping them to 2 goals at the half, 3 by the third period, and then we just sort of fell apart.

And by falling apart I mean in every possible way.  Our middle defender decided to liberate himself and play most of the time on offense.  Our attack game looked more like keep-away (with the defenders on the keeping end).  And worst of all, our players started sniping at each other for falling down on the job.  Oh, and we scored several goals on ourselves, which is, you know, symbolic.

But that's where I think I can help.  I might not be super aggressive, macho, or knowledgeable in soccer, but I am, well, sensitive.  And as a dad, I can give a heavy, guilt-inducing talk about being a teammate with the best of them.

And everyone loves adults who make them feel guilty.  That's the peak moment of every family sitcom, isn't it?

Of course, credit goes to our team that when it came time to cheer for the other tea (2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?), they refused to say Chiropractors instead of Bone Crushers (as I was goading them to do).  So, score one more for our team. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Bone Crushers (yes, for real)

So tomorrow we play the Bone Crushers.  Yes, that is their team name.  And currently they're undefeated, so I guess they've earned it.  (We're the Hawks, remember? Nice Muir-style nature imagery.)

Oh, and I know one of the moms.

Why is it when I know a parent on the other team, suddenly I care even more whether or not we get slaughtered? (Did I say slaughtered? No more negative talk from me, no ma'am.)

So we had a few busy practices.  Tonight the boys were all over the place, so I laid into D.  Yes, Coach's son.  He's the only one I can lay into with impunity. Except he was even more all over the place than the others, and he punted a ball into my sternum.  Don't worry, I'm fine.

So why does any of this even involve me?  Why are my emotions the subject of this post?  I ran some drills with them. I consulted my assistant coach about rules I didn't know.  I did my part.  It's up to the boys now, right?

After practice, in the twilight, the Coach from last week's game (4-0, them), came over and said, "Tough game."  Then he proceeded to tell me about his daughter's team last year and how they lost the first few games and won all the rest.  "Sometimes it just takes a while for them to kick in."  (Somehow he was able to flex his muscles with every statement he made.  How is that even possible?)

So that's his story.  Except I kept thinking about the other teams that must've turned to losing after their initial wins. And then I thought, Hey, why is this guy saying this to me? Does he feel sorry for me?

Well, he should.  For now.

But these Bone Crushers better be ready.  Because if I there's one thing, it's that there's a whole lot of bones in the human foot alone, and we have 18 of them -- so they better be ready! There work is cut out for them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hello, world

Soccer. Football.

I know painfully little about you.  But, as fate would have it, I am a coach. And I'm totally out of my element.

In my day job I'm a teacher.  I teach writing. Something I've been doing since I was 5.  Me teaching soccer is a little like me teaching breast feeding.  I can stare at it on TV and describe what the books say, but I just don't have the equipment to do it myself.

But I guess I do know a little something about making things fun for kids.  You see, every game, when I yell, Hawks, Rise, the team yells, "Hawk, hawk!" 

Never mind that hawks aren't like Pokemon, which can only call out their own name.

Never mind that we lost our first game 7-0.

Never mind that I dread a losing season more than anything since my benchwarming performance on my middle school football team.

So why am I doing this?  I'm in it for my son and all the other kids on the team.  I'm in it to do something hard but necessary for this team to exist (in a division with too many players and not enough volunteers).  I'm in it because as much as I dread this, what I dread more is never facing these fears.  So what else is there to say, but...

Hawks, Rise!