It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and there isn’t any snow on the ground! In New England, that means Fall. And in this family, that means soccer. Here they are, the fab four lacing up during the last days of August to play a
friendly game of family soccer. You see, for better or for worse, the competitive genetic streak is strong.
I’ve been observing what we pass down to our wee ones.
The other day at Hogwarts, we were sitting around the dinner table where all the food magically appears. A little girl walked past me wearing an adorable tutu, with her hair all done up. Her mother loves dance, teaches dance, and takes her children to the ballet. I looked around my table to see soccer jerseys and ponytails. No, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Unconsciously (or not!) we encourage and condition our children to love the things we love.
Which makes me realize I’ve got to start playing more classical music around here.
Oh course, kids must find and pursue their own passions. Like when Nelson wanted to be a ninja for four years. Or how Cope loves calligraphy and knitting and listening to history tapes and Brynne paints and Paige loves dogs and collecting small rocks.
But it’s not exactly a coincidence that none of my kids play hockey. You know?
In our home, the gang is all here. In their cleats: As it should be. And the weather is turning. And the wind has shifted. There is that smell in the air…the smell of Fall sports. The smell of running and passing and scoring. Can you feel it too?
“Pass! Bend your knees. That’s it. Your plant foot points at your target. Lock your ankle. Don’t just stand their like a stick, MOVE!”
I swear on my future grave I have never said “don’t just stand their like a stick!” (though I have surely thought it…:)
Our backyard games get physical. Soccer becomes a full contact sport. The donkeys next door love the entertainment.
(side note: please excuse the blurry photos. those darn kids move so much. and also, I’m having external hard drive issues. as in: I don’t get it.)
Anyhoo, the fall season also means coaching! Once again I’m coaching the co-ed 7th/8th grade middle school team in our little town.
We don’t have try-outs. We don’t make cuts because we don’t have to. Everyone can play. This means some years I have 30 kids (every year except this one) or 13 kids (this year.)
I take this job as Coach seriously.
Being “Coach” holds a very powerful position in the eyes of a child. Coach is the authority. Coach has so much sway, can make or break a child’s view of him or herself. One cutting remark and a kid never goes out for the team again. But a coach who believes in your worth, sees potential when no one else does, encourages without fail: that’s the coach who changes lives.
Do you remember longing for Coach to believe in you? I do.
We should all have coaches! Read this fantastic article by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and best-selling author. READ it. It’s so good.
(I could have a “motherhood coach” or “organizational” coach or perhaps “how to get out of folding the laundry” coach.)
Here’s my team this year:
This year we are the underdogs, a complete turn around from last season, when we dominated. But just look at us! We’re like superheroes waiting to bust out.
Last week we split the team into two and brought up some younger players (including Brynne!). I needed another coach…and there was my girl, Cope. She was so nervous and so excited.
We rode the school bus to the game together, discussing strategy and positions.
When it was all over…she was riding a huge high. “That was so fun!” I could see her dreaming of coaching her little Copes someday. I’ve been doing this awhile now, and Yes, darling, you’re right. It’s so fun. My girl squad
Over the years I’ve learned this:
- We are all athletes
- Never ever give up on a kid because
- They will continually surprise you
- Heart trumps talent any day
- Life lessons are learned on the athletic field
Wondering about the life lessons? For instance, yesterday we had several conversations about being kind to one another (and not saying the “F” word on the bus, or like, ever.)
When we got off the bus we talked about being good school representatives.
During warmups I had a heart-to-heart with one of my players:
“No one listens to me!”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because they’re like…stupid!”
“Actually, look at those girls. They are your defense. And they are very strong and smart.”
“But they don’t listen to me!”
“Let me ask you this,” I said. “Does anyone like to be bossed around and told to shut up?”
“Perhaps,” I said, there was a better way to communicate. We talked about The Art of Charm and my “Sandwich Theory for Spouses.” Which is this: for every criticism you have, you must sandwich it between two positive comments. Otherwise, I am not listening to you.
“Boy,” I said. “Your defense needs to hear you say positive things about what they do. For instance, when they get the ball and clear it wide you yell, ‘GREAT CLEAR!’ If you are kind and positive most of the time, then your team will listen to your suggestions.”
He frowned. More tears. He was done talking. He didn’t want to play the first half.
But wait…second half began. He took the field.
And clear across the soccer field I heard his loud voice yelling, “Good job, great clear!”
Oh, these are the things that make me very happy.
There are other stories that aren’t quite so sunny, but we’ll leave it there 🙂
I became a coach at the same time I became a mother.
Cope was a newborn. I would bring her to varsity girls soccer practice at Hogwarts, and she would cry and cry because that’s just what she liked to do. I would push her stroller around the field, running to quiet her. She was not quiet. She had a pair of lungs that echoed across three soccer fields and then some. And her voice triggered the most inconvenient milk let-downs.
As my babe grew, she was always on the soccer field, followed by the rest of her siblings.
They crawled toward soccer balls, tried to eat them, and learned to kick. Eventually Cope was old enough to play on a team. But she needed a coach. I looked around and knew it was meant to be.
We’ve been together ever since.
My hip was hurting. I’m a tad bit slower. When I turn it’s not quite as quick. And I don’t want to get hurt. Because it might take me awhile to get up again.
I have begun to fear my soccer playing is dwindling. But until that time, I’ll enjoy the thrill of running down the field, wind in my face, attempting to make the play of my life. And then I will obsess about all the things I should have done better…it’s that darn competitive gene.
And when I can’t kick the ball anymore? I imagine I’ll still be holding my clipboard and whistle.
Where Cope is missing out due to an ocean adventure.
Where Nelson is trying out for JV1, a team he wants to make more than he wants to breathe. Where he believes his Magista soccer cleats will summon the gods of soccer to shine on him.
Where Brynne is playing on two teams, and Paige is playing real games for the first time.
And where mom and dad are on the field as coaches, working and fighting for those magical moments that come from hard work, unselfishness, muscle memory, and team spirit.
There have been mistakes made a long the way. I wish I could have some do-overs. But every year, if you’re open to learning, you get better. You know what works and what doesn’t. You understand that games are played because they’re fun, because there is glory to be found in the arena, and because your athletes (even the little ones!) have something to teach you, too.
It’s a glorious thing.
Another season of coaching, another season of playing. Forget December. In these “pauhts,” it’s the most wonderful time of the year!