By luck and strange coincidence, I found myself home for a decent stretch of time over the last few weeks. Because I was home, and because I’m a swell guy, I told the little missus that she should stay home and chill, and that I would deliver my daughter to soccer practice. I would stay and watch, and then return her home after said practice was over. My friend Bridget turned me on to an outstanding author, Nelson DeMille, so I could watch a little practice, read a little Plum Island, and feel like I was a contributor to more than just our modest bank account. Reluctantly, the little missus agreed. She was reluctant because she knows that no matter how minor and insignificant the task is, I can find a way to screw it up. No foreshadowing here, just a point of fact.
My daughter is 11; she’s playing in what is known as Instructional League soccer, sponsored by our local YMCA. For the most part the Y does a great job. The fall soccer league is strictly recreational, they don’t keep score (Communism??) so there are no win/loss records, the teams are picked to be even…the purpose is simply to get the kids in our community to be active.
Saturdays at the soccer field are very cool. Try to imagine a kaleidoscope of colored jerseys dancing across the Kelly green grass under the canopy of a crystal blue autumn sky. There are probably 6 or 7 fields on the grounds where they play. It’s a sensory overload of color, sound, and aroma in a sea of fun competition. It’s a positive vibe.
So on this slightly chilly Thursday evening my little 11-year-old angel and I hop into the Hyundai (`cause that’s how we roll) and head to practice. I ask her about her day, she says it was “fine” and nothing else…she get’s that from her mother. I ask her to tell me about something cool that happened today, she said nothing cool happened. I said, “TELL ME SOMETHING YOU SELFISH BRAT! I’M TRYING TO MAKE CONVERSATION! LET’S BOND! DADDY’S HOME! THROW AN F-ING BONE HERE!
Okay, I didn’t really say that, but I was thinking that. I wanted a Ward Cleaver or Jim Anderson moment from Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best. When I explained this to my little angel, she said “Who the hell is Ward Cleaver?”
Okay, she didn’t really say that, but she was probably thinking that. She just looked at me with that telling stare that says, “I know you’re trying to make a point, but I just don’t get it. And if I did, I really wouldn’t care”…she get’s that from her mother too. So I just patted her on her head, told her that I loved her because she was such an independent spirit, and that I knew she would be great at anything she ever did because of that special gift. What are you gonna do?
We get to the soccer field, and away she goes, water bottle in hand, ponytail dancing side to side as she jogs over to her team. She moves with a bounce, her carriage expresses joy. My little angel is not athletic, but she likes to play – whatever you’re playing. She will never be the first kid picked on a team, but she doesn’t care. She just likes to play. I’m pretty sure it’s the social part that she likes – the camaraderie. Whatever her motivation is, I am so grateful for it. I love to play too.
Last year she played soccer for the first time, and the experience was not positive. Her coach “was a dick”. She confided those exact words to me when at the end of last year’s season I asked her if she wanted to play next year.
“Ya know Daddy, I know that Coach Jimmy was a real dick, but none of the other coaches were dicks. Most of the other coaches were pretty nice. So just because Coach Jimmy was a dick, I shouldn’t let that stop me from playing”
“I think that’s a good way to look at it Honey. Do you know what you’re saying when you say dick?” I asked.
“A dick is like a jerk, right?”
“Well, sort of” I said. “But when most people use the word dick, they’re talking about a penis.”
She stared at me, shocked. “Oh Daddy, I didn’t know it meant that.”
“It’s OK, you didn’t know. You’re not in trouble” I consoled.
“You don’t understand. I told Mrs. Peterson the same thing at school today. Am I gonna be in trouble?”
“No Honey. I’m sure Mrs. Peterson has heard about what a dick…I mean jerk… Coach Jimmy was from the other kids too. Don’t worry about it. Just don’t use that word anymore.”
That pretty much sums up the first year of soccer. My wife and I hoped we would get a better coach for year two. We did.
This year, we have coaches Rob, and Jen. I don’t really know Rob at all, but I swear he is the most positive person I have ever been around. He’s kind of a small guy; athletic in his build, very active in his motion. I just know him from watching him work with these 5th and 6th grade girls. God bless this dude, he connects with them – and you can see that they love him. Way cool. If he wasn’t’ so positive, and great with my kid, I’m sure I wouldn’t like him. I usually don’t like people who remind me of all the things I’m not. That’s just me.
Coach Jen is our neighbor from across the street, one of the first people we met when we moved to town. She’s a teacher, actually, she is such a respected teacher, she is now a Teacher Coach. So she teaches teachers. If she carried a business card, Respected Educator would be her title. She’s the kind of person that is going to be good at anything she does – she just seems to have a drive. I wouldn’t call her quiet, but she’s not one to waste words either. You would never know these things about her unless you were watching. She’ll tell you things about herself if you ask, but you have to ask.
In most cases, I wouldn’t like Jen either, for the same reasons I wouldn’t like Rob…my stats don’t really hold up well against virtuous overacheivers. But Jen is good peeps. She is great with my kids, a good friend to my family, and she’s hot. Hot allows me to overlook things that would normally piss me off. Things like being a great human being…(what the hell is that all about?) Jen (and her husband too) are the kind of people who you could call with a plea for help at 3:00 AM. You could make that call without any fear, shame or hesitation. I can’t give higher praise than that.
Jen is also a runner, and by that, I’m not saying that she is a person who runs, I’m saying that she is a runner. She races just about every weekend, and she doesn’t show up to compete, she shows up to win. Had I ever considered these things before this chronicle, I might not have let my rather non-athletic kid play on Jen’s team for fear of neighborhood friction. It would have been the bonehead move of the century, but I’m a bonehead, so…
Jen and her husband have two daughters who are also very athletic, and as pretty as their Mom. The younger child is on the team as well – she’s a year younger than my angel, and they are good friends. Jen’s kid is almost like a coach on the field. She is an excellent passer, and knows how to set up her teammates for a score. The game seems a little slower to her than it does to my daughter and most of the other kids on the field. There is no panic in this kid. When the ball is at her feet, she is looking at other players, when the ball is at the other kid’s feet; they’re looking at the ball.
So I’m reading my book, taking in the sights and sounds every few minutes. I’m watching my daughter listen to Coach Rob and Coach Jen, and I’m amazed at the intensity to which she is focused on what they’re telling her. They are coaching, and she is listening, she asks questions, and you can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she tries to learn the game. I could have been overcome with emotion at the sight, if I wasn’t such a hard ass and therefore immune to such things. Maybe I will have an athlete in my home after all, I’m thinking as I watch it all unfold.
At this point, I’m quite full of Large Man pride – the dream wheels are turning. I watch her fall back to a defensive role, she looks down at the chalk lines on the field to establish her position, and as soon as she raises her head, BAM! From about 6 feet away, one of the strongest legs on the team launches the neon yellow ball right into her face. Her head jerked back, and she falls right on her 6th grade ass. I’m almost 100 yard away and I heard the impact.
Oh well…It was fun while it lasted, I’m thinking. She’s done.
This kid freaks out for weeks at the thought of an upcoming immunization shot. She simply doesn’t do pain. I know that this ball to the kisser hurt like hell. She likes to play, but pain is not part of the plan.
I jump out of my chair and start making my way to the scene, and I see her look up. She’s looking for me. She finds me, sees that I’m on my way, and she waves me off. I’m now close enough to see the tears forming, she turns to Jen and says something that I can’t hear, and then the two of them walk over to the first aid kit. Jen get’s an ice pack and some gauze or tissue, and applies them to the kid’s face. My baby has a bloody nose, her braces cut into her lip a little, and a bruise is forming on the bridge of her nose. Coach Jen says something, and then they high-five. Alex sits, Jen goes back to the rest of the team, they both give me the “thumbs up”, Alex drops her makeshift mask looks at the blood, and then she looks at me and smiles.
HOLY SHIT! Who is this kid?
Ten minutes later, she is up and back on the field participating in the drills. Blood on her shirt, a smile on her face, and I swear a whole new level of aggressiveness. It was amazing.
This is what comes with encouragement from good coaches. I think it can also come with the spirit of competition, and the love of a game. Maybe it’s the love of hanging out with your peers and friends, and not wanting to let them down.
I’m not sure I know what it is. I know what it isn’t though. My daughter didn’t pick herself back up off the ground, wipe away the tears, and suck it up because she was afraid she was going to get yelled at by some dick – and I don’t mean jerk.
She did it because she believes that Rob and Jen believe in her, and they want her to be the best she can be. Not better than anyone else, just her best. She did it because she wants to play. She did it because of the joy that comes with playing a game.
My little angel climbed into the car at the end of practice and looked at me with the biggest smile her face could hold and said, “DID YOU SEE THAT? That practice was FRIGGIN AWESOME!”
Yeah, I saw it sweetie. I was watching. It was friggin awesome.
Please make any comments you wish in the comment section, or if you’re nature is more private, send me and email at email@example.com … I’m not just interested in your thoughts, I crave them…likes, dislikes, or similar experiences. Thanks for reading!