Things I Love: Soccer and Coaching Soccer

I’m a lucky guy. I raised my hand three years ago and said, “I’ll coach soccer,” and nobody told me to stay seated and be quiet, so three years later, I’m still coaching. This past Sunday marked the end of my third fall session of soccer and I’ve watched my third grade girls, my daughter among them, go from 6-year-olds who picked flowers and grass during games, to skilled and hard-working soccer players. In fact, at Sunday’s game, I heard them talking to each other asking for the pass, and two times in the game someone made a backwards pass in order to set-up something that resembled an attack.

We tied 1-1 on Sunday. We tied a team that I’ve never beaten in 2 1/2 years (yes, I made a mental note). We tied, and we had enough scoring opportunities, we should’ve won. We finished the season 5-2-1. We play in a rec league, so it’s theoretically “non competitive” and we don’t really keep score, we don’t have standings, and it’s just for fun …but, ahem, I kinda keep track. Oh, and before you get all “that’s the problem with our society – everyone gets a trophy” on me, there are PLENTY of competitive leagues all over Detroit. This league is fun. It allows a kid who maybe just moved to the area, or didn’t decide he or she wanted to play soccer until 3rd or 4th grade …it allows them to play and have fun. That’s a good thing. Life and sports get ultra competitive soon enough …it’s great to have rec leagues, still.

Anyway, soap box aside, and if I can get out my tissue box …coaching my daughter and her friends is a highlight of my life. Yes, it’s a major time commitment (a practice during the week, and games on Sundays …not to mention I also coach my son’s 1st Grade team). Yes, at times it feels like I’m missing something and it feels like everyone is looking at me and thinking, “Don doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing, does he?” But I know, many years from now, I’ll have nothing but fond memories of every minute of it – the good and bad.

I know this because it’s already happened. I can’t guarantee it’ll happen again, but I hope I’m making an impact – even if only a small impact. See, about 15 years ago when I was fresh out of college, my wife got a job teaching 2nd grade. I had an easy job and lots of time on my hands, so in order to network, meet people, and make friends, I volunteered to help coach 2nd grade soccer. Aside from being a 23-year-old running around helping the 40-something fathers, I had about 20 years worth of soccer experience to throw at these kids. But I tried to make it fun, show the kids proper footwork and technique, teach them some nuances of the game, but mostly …have fun. Sports and soccer can be serious, but there’s a time and place for that. I’m of the opinion, if kids have fun doing something, they’ll be more likely to want to do more of it. And soccer is a perfect example of that …in foreign countries, soccer is a religion. But it starts as something fun.

Anyway, way back then in the late 90s, though I didn’t actually know what I was doing, I tried and helped coach that team for 2 seasons. Then my career got more busy, I got a new job that didn’t let me skate out at 3pm, and I had to quit coaching.

That chapter was closed … until about 12 years later when a former player used the power of Facebook to reach out to my wife and write a note about how much fun he remembered having at soccer and having me as a coach. I can’t remember every detail of the note, but I think this kid was all grown up and about to graduate and become a teacher and he singled out his two seasons on my team as having a great impact on his life.

I know …nice note to write to a former teacher …“hey, thanks for teaching me to read and do math, but your husband doing pratfalls and slapstick at soccer practice and showing us the Brazilian Butt-trap …that was life-changing.” Maybe teachers should do more physical humor during class. Just a suggestion.

Long story short …oh, wait …long story longer, being a coach is great. I’m not a “cool” 23-year-old dude anymore, but I hope I might still be having a small impact. I often look across the field at my daughter and her friends and wonder what lies ahead for all of them in their future. I don’t assume they’ll all stick with soccer, but whatever they do, sports or otherwise, they’ll do great things. They’ll grow up and get onto travel teams, other sports, or into other activities. They’ll likely all head off to different high-schools and do amazing things and I’ll read about them in the local paper, on The Patch, or in newsletters or church bulletins. I’ll run into their parents and hear amazing stories about what they’re up to, and I’ll smile big and bright because I’ll remember how they were “way back when” and I knew they were destined for great things.

Some scoff at the idea that it’s not whether you win or lose …but it’s true. Life is not about wins and losses. It really isn’t. It’s about playing the game. And if you play the game, you’re bound to experience the thrill of victory, and more than likely you’ll taste the bitterness of defeat. Hey, that’s sports. Heck …it’s life. Good and bad. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Sometimes you have more of one and less of the other, but it’s all part of the journey and the game. No matter how good you are at soccer, there’s someone better. No matter how fast you are, there’s someone faster. No matter how bad you lose, it could’ve been worse. No matter how bad you played during the game, someone could’ve played worse.

But I can guarantee this …nobody could’ve possibly had more fun than I did. Nobody could be more proud than I am. And nobody had a better September and October than I did. Nobody loves coaching more than I do. Nobody got to see and hear bigger belly laughs than I heard at soccer practices. Nobody heard more uproarious laughter from my daughter and her friends in the backseat of my car as we carpooled to and from practices, or as they all started calling me “Coach Mohawk” and then laughed uncontrollably while I pretended to be mad. Nobody. And if we had finished the season 0-8, I’d still be smiling. And if 8-0 meant less fun and laughter, I’d say “pass.”

So I’ll say it again …it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. But …

… I won.

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