Sweet Moments

This past Saturday was week 6 of 8 of the soccer season. It was a good weekend. Both of my teams played amazing games. My younger team of third and fourth graders (8-9 year olds) won their fifth game of the season, 6-0. We had to actually pull players off to give them an advantage and they were still unable to score. My other team of fifth and sixth graders (10-11 year olds) lost their sixth game 3-2. The referee was terrible and missed so many calls. It was probably one of the most infuriating games I have ever seen. What sucks is that particular referee is better with my younger team. She catches a lot of those penalties. I guess maybe the older game moves too fast for her.

But my younger team played the most amazing game. Not only did we score a bunch of goals, but we did it with good passes, taking our time and working together, and playing probably the best defense I have seen them play in two seasons. It was an inspiring game as their coach. I can’t wait for practice today because I really think they will be happy to get lots of compliments. It was a great game.

But there were two other really significant moments that will be what I remember the most about this game. It won’t be the score, who scored those goals, or how well the defense played. It will be operation get zach a goal and when three of them told me I was probably the best coach they ever had.

Operation get zach a goal is my top offense players pushing the ball forward to Zach so he can score. Zach has a hard time running fast. He doesn’t kick the ball very hard. He rarely scores even when he’s standing at the penalty spot in practice. He’s an amazing kid, one who has refused to sub in for his friend if that friend hasn’t scored yet. He will not take his friend out of the game until he’s scored at least one goal. He’s always trying to raise spirits on the sideline and he was so proud of his assist two weeks ago. He never had an assist before, but that game the ball went off of his leg and right to one of our two most prolific scorers, who easily kicked it right into the goal. Zach was elated.

But he still wants to score a goal.

At one of the first games of the season, he told me that he knows he’s the worst player on the team by far. He said he tries so hard but he’s not getting any better. This is false. I have watched this kid’s confidence grow since last season. His attitude went from terrible to much better. He talks about how much fun he’s having playing soccer and he looks forward to our games. But he has said more than once that he is one of the worst players ever. I spent one night thinking hard about how to help him, how to give him that little extra edge of confidence and it hit me…we have to help him score a goal. We have great players who can carry the ball forward. He just needs to keep up with them and get in front of the goal at the right time to get that elusive first goal.

On Saturday, I watched every single one of my offensive players get Zach a good pass that was either not great for scoring or was intercepted by the defense. Other times it was great placement and the goalie stopped his shot. But we are talking about 6-7 kids that passed to him over and over and kept trying their hardest to get him the ball. And every time he had the ball, whether it was him carrying it forward or him taking that pass from someone else, our entire sideline of parents screamed “GO ZACH!!!” My heart felt like it might burst on Saturday. It was like we were all in on the secret. We were going to get Zach a goal. We could do it. We didn’t do it. But Zach played pretty much the entire game and I watched him get more and more confident and closer to scoring each time he had the ball. Operation get zach a goal will be back on Saturday. We are going to do this. I know he can do it. And I know the team can do it because two other people I have been encouraging to score all season scored on Saturday. TWO PEOPLE!! I was so impressed with both of them!

The other sweet moment was on the sideline with me. I was talking with a few of my players about scoring goals and who thought they could score next game. Everyone wants to score. I think they all could do it. Then these three started talking about who their coaches have been since they started soccer. One said he couldn’t really remember his coaches, except his dad who coached his first season. And then he looked up at me and said “You are the best coach I have ever had.” And then the others chimed in that I was their best coach too. And that they don’t want any other coach.

Kids can be brutally honest. They can tear you apart with their unfiltered observations in an instant. But they aren’t ones to fake compliments or to try and make you feel good with something that isn’t really true. They tell it like it is. And a compliment like that from a 9 year old means so much than any other compliment I’ve gotten from their parents. He means it. They all mean it.

And that is why I coach.

At first it was because they needed people because there weren’t enough volunteers. But after a few weeks last season, I really loved what I was doing. It was inciting a passion in me that I haven’t felt in years. It was giving me a purpose for living and a reason to put myself out there. It was something new but old at the same time. Back when I played soccer, I never thought I would have kids or coach anything. I loved lacrosse and just like I wanted, I was a referee for lacrosse at one point after college.

Last week when that old grandfather was saying mean things, I thought I might want to stop coaching. Like what’s the point if I am going to get trashed on the sideline by someone who isn’t even a coach himself. Someone who thinks I need a book to learn how to coach a sport I played myself. I was really aching inside, thinking about why I even bother to waste time every week writing up a plan for practice, building a starting roster ahead of time, and thinking strategically about what I want to say before each game. I thought it was pointless to volunteer when clearly there are other more qualified people waiting on the wings to coach.

But wait…there’s not. I started because there wasn’t enough people volunteering. And every single one of those parents of my players got the same email I did and chose not to volunteer. Every single one had the opportunity to help out. Or they could have sent it to their all knowing parents, who could volunteer to coach their grandchild’s team. But that didn’t happen. I emailed back tentatively, scared to volunteer, but scared not to. I felt something inside that told me I was meant to do this. And I did it. Even when I doubted that I could at the first practice when 12 unruly children ran amok and made me think I was an idiot for doing this.

And then on Saturday they tried to get Zach a goal and they told me I was the best coach they had. That’s why I coach. To make these kids see who they are on the inside. That they can score and win, come together as a team on that field, even when it looks like they shouldn’t win. And that together, we are stronger than we are as individuals. And together we can get Zach, who always doubts himself, his first goal. I am teaching them pride, working on humility (this one is hard sometimes, I must admit), good sportsmanship (also hard), and working with people you sometimes don’t like. I am developing them as people, not just soccer players.

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