The Joys of a Soccer Coach

Coaching soccer, or any sport really, comes with its challenges. So do most things in life. In fact, I can’t remember many instances where I’ve been handed things on a silver platter. Excluding my childhood, where I was fed, clothed and provided a roof over my head, I struggle to remember when I didn’t have to work for whatever it is I wanted in life. We…

Yeah, they did Dickmoji. Why?

They did. And they do. I have the letters from them wishing I were dead to prove it. I also overheard them saying they wished they never had kids. And that’s just a smattering of evidence; there’s plenty more available where that came from. But yes, they provided the essentials. They also gave us Christmas gifts, because that’s what they were supposed to do. But what they didn’t do was provide any love. That emotion wasn’t present; it was replaced by anger and contempt. But we’re getting sidetracked, as we often do.

My point was that, unless you’re born into wealth, you generally have to work for things in life. Whether you college is paid for or not, you have to put in the effort. If you want to succeed in your profession, you’ve gotta wake and show up, separating yourself from the crowd. If…

Authors self-reflection: I think I did that, early in my career (the whole, separating myself from the pack thing). I had ambition. I excelled. I raised my hand for more responsibilities. But my motivations were financial. And when I realized my profession wasn’t my passion, the desire to make more money wasn’t enough. I coasted on my previous successes and quickly became bored as fuck.
Yes, Dickmoji. I quickly became bored. But I stayed bored, working at the same job for a decade longer than I should’ve. The reason? Also financial. Where the fuck was I gonna make that sorta money, except in my chosen profession, I reasoned.
I realize that…now. But back then? A  mortgage to pay and a daughter with a serious chronic illness seemed like obstacles that were too large to overcome. So large that I kinda just settled into my boredom, thinking that this was just the way life had to be.
Two things, Dickmoji. First, fuck you for mocking me. Second, I’m not crying or fishing for pity. I’m stating facts. I don’t feel sad about the past now. But I did feel sad back then; depression was my normal condition. Lastly,—and I guess this is really three things, not two—it is sad that I allowed myself to wallow for that long. Sad for the time lost and the missed opportunities. But without the pain of the past, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. And that’s a pretty darn happy place to be. I mean, I’m married to this woman:
Geez, I’m going bald!

Back to…life. It’s filled with obstacles, roadblocks, and challenges. And that’s for things we’re actually striving for. Throw in all the unexpected problems along the way? It’s not easy, is it Dear Reader? And that includes coaching.

I coached my daughters in soccer and softball for more than ten years. It’s a massive time commitment, to be sure. Each sport has their own idiosyncrasies. Softball has way more rescheduling concerns due to the weather; it’s hard to play on a muddy dirt field. Which brings another headache: prepping the field for play (raking, moving wheelbarrows full of dirt, lining the foul lines, etc). Soccer? They pretty much play in the rain, unless there’s a torrential downpour or lightning.

But there is a lot of similarities between the sports. You’ve got to put in the time for practices, you’ve got to put together the lineup to ensure relatively equal playing time, and you’ve got to deal with the individual personalities. Some are more mature, some have learning disabilities, some are sweet, and some are a tad bit bratty. And sometimes, not all of those personalities mesh.

And then, there’s the parents. Again, you have to deal with all kinds. Some feel like you’re screwing their kid over: “Why aren’t you playing her in this position,” or “My kid sat on the sidelines for 15 minutes and everyone else only say for 13. Why are you singling her out?” Parents tend to put blinders on about their child’s abilities, routinely overestimating their athletic ability. And they also have unfair expectations, wanting their child to play goalie in a game when they haven’t been to practice for two weeks and even when they were, they never expressed any interest in goaltending.

There are parents that don’t pitch in whatsoever, yet expect full participation rights in pizza parties or end-of-the-year celebrations. There are parents that don’t communicate when they can’t make games, making your lineup you created in advance utterly worthless. And on and on and on.

There are times when you just don’t feel like going. Where you’re sick or just tired, or both. Or you just don’t have the energy to deal with 14 different personalities with constant fleeting attention spans. And the bickering and the negativity. And the, and the, and the…

But then, there’s also a fair chance you’ll meet some of the kindest souls in your lifetime, both children and adult.

Like Artie, a spark plug of a player whose diminutive stature belies her speed, tenacity, and all-over-the-field presence. But it was the squeaky-cute voice that I hear in my head, the one telling me about events at her school, or vacations, or…life, that I’ll remember most.

Or Coco, whose desire to improve led her to be the best player on the team, and a dominating threat to score a goal. But it was the end-of-season handwritten card to me that I’ll remember most.

Or E., a solid, fearless goalie and a stabilizing defender. But it was her smile-inducing nickname of “Marcus” and her handmade bracelet—a bracelet that I wore for weeks and would still be wearing, if I hadn’t broke it☹️—that I’ll remember most.

Or KK. A decade ago, she was one of the strongest defenders in the entire league. But it was her fierce friendship with my daughter, with all the sleepovers and hanging out. It was her graduation from high school and the note I wrote to her, recalling all of our shared moments, that forced to to cry like a baby. It was those memories—not the actual time on the soccer field—that I’ll remember most.

Life is a balancing act. It requires a constant juggling of multiple responsibilities: work and family; hobbies and commitments; time with one friend vs. time with another; traveling to soccer practice in one direction while the wife travels in the opposite direction for another child’s football practice; and on and on and on. But besides all the to-do’s, life is also filled with decisions. Do the pluses outweigh the minuses? To which side is the scale tipping? And that’s exactly the decision we had to make with soccer.

As things tend to do, all of the negatives seemed to pile up at once—the parents bitching, the lack of pitching in, the inability to simply communicate whether their daughter is showing up for practices and games or whether they’re even on the fucking team any longer or not. All of that hit us at once. And it made us wonder, Nikki and I, if it was worth it.

The question—if it was worth it—wasn’t mine alone. It was a question for both of us. Nikki is assistant coach and team mother; I’m head coach. Arguably, her duties are more of a pain in the ass than mine. But regardless of whose pain-in-the-ass plate is fuller, both are piled pretty freaking high.

So is it worth it? Without a doubt: yes. For all of the reasons mentioned above. But most importantly, for the simple fact that we’re granted the opportunity to be positive influences in soooo many young lives. And we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Some of these girls come from challenging upbringings and some only have one parent. Others have loving, two-parent families. Regardless, they all have room for another role model, teacher and yes, parental figure. And for that reason alone, yes, it’s worth it.

Decision made,—yes, we would be coaching again—we went into our final game, with a season ending party to follow. And it was as if karma returned a favor. The negatives washed away—parents did step up and we won a close, hard fought game. But it was seeing the culmination of our time and effort come to fruition that I’ll remember most. Seeing several players—including our own daughter—play their absolute best game, all at once, against a tough opponent? Seeing them work together as a team, supporting each other? And of course, getting soaked with a jug of water afterwards, hugging the parents, hearing the appreciation in their voice, and being part of all the smiles on everyone’s faces. Yeah. Sign is up for another year. 💯

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