Monday, April 12, 2010


I never played soccer growing up. I was raised in a hometown where we stuck to the big three: football, basketball, and baseball. No one I knew played soccer. My high school didn't even have a soccer team until I was a junior in college. If you had asked most of my friends about Pele, a few would have known that he is a soccer player from "some country in South America." Most thought Pele was a game played on horseback. Today, things are different for my kids. Soccer is gaining popularity. I hear more parents talk about their children playing little league soccer than I hear say anything about pee wee football. Whenever I mention this fact in a group conversation, some mom or dad inevitably informs me that they won't let their little boy play football because he might get hurt. What? You gotta be kidding! How much damage can two first-graders sustain running into each other at the break-neck speed of .02 miles per hour? If you ask me, nothing says "good ole American Saturday morning" quite like the sight of six-year-olds racing up the field in over-sized pads, their helmets bouncing about so as to resemble a collection of bobble-head dolls.

But I digress. The point is, I don't know a thing about soccer because I never played it. Well, that's not entirely true. I do know that only the goalie can touch the ball with his hands. I also know that the World Cup is soccer's biggest event. And I know that, internationally, soccer fans can become very violent when their team loses (or even if it wins). I'll never forget watching highlights of a game between Colombia and Italy on ESPN. After the game, Latinos and Italians stormed the field and began engaging one another in hand-to-hand combat. It was like watching West Side Story--only with much less singing and dancing. In other countries they call such a scene passion. In the States, we call it a race riot.

Given my lack of soccer knowledge, it is somewhat ironic that I find myself coaching this sport I know very little about. My kids wanted to play soccer, so I let them play. Then they asked me to coach. "How hard can it be?" I thought, "It's four and five-year-olds kicking a ball." That was three years ago when Emerson started playing. The past two seasons I've coached her team. This year, I'm coaching William's. More than that, I'm coaching by myself. That's right, no one volunteered to be an assistant. It's just me and a bunch of pint-sized soccer players. Their noses run faster than their feet and they enthusiastically kick at everything that moves (soccer balls, each other, grasshoppers, water bottles, Coach Kindred's shins, innocent spectators who aren't paying attention, elderly people too slow or feeble to get out of the way... you name it). How hard can it be? Pretty darn hard! I'd say it ranks somewhere between passing a kidney stone and eliciting an intelligent political opinion from a Hollywood actor. I don't know that you can really say you've earned your Daddy Badge until you've tried teaching the concept of teamwork to a group of preschoolers as they cry, chase butterflies, steal each others' soccer balls , and continually interrupt you with phrases like I have to go poo poo... Jeremy pushed me... are we almost finished?... and I think someone farted. (Aah, the camaraderie of sports).

Still, I love my kids. Each one contributes to the team in their own way. William, Macy, and Beckett are my three best players. They go after the ball with reckless abandon. If we ever do score a goal (no such luck the first two games), chances are good it will be off the foot of one of those three. Then I have my role players. Michael has taken it upon himself to be the team's designated crier. If the ball hits him, he sits on the ground in the middle of the field and cries. If the ball rolls past him he cries. If no one kicks the ball in his direction he cries. If Coach Kindred yells, "Michael, get up, buddy; here comes the ball," he cries. No doubt about it. Thanks to Michael, crying is covered. Then there's Tuesday. Her job is to stand in the middle of the field terrified, wishing she were somewhere else. A couple of my kids are great at running off the field impulsively, leaving our team two men down just as the other team is about to score. Meanwhile, each of the kids who has played goalie has brought their own special touch to the position. Macy boldly dares opposing players to take a shot by standing off to the side of the goal with her back turned while she eyes the concession stand two fields over. Austin ruthlessly attempts to stare down the ball. Watching it intently, never bothering to move, as he follows it with his eyes into the goal. And then there's the one or two goalies who have mastered the art of ducking and squealing with horror as the ball races past them into the net. Yep, make no mistake. Each player brings his or her own bag of talents to the table. I just haven't quite yet figured out how to mesh all the crying, squealing, and genuine disinterest into a winning combination.

And so, Saturday cometh. And with it my little soccer warriors will once again don their tiny shin guards, drape themselves in black uniforms, make sure they've peed before hitting the field, and take to the turf in pursuit of four-year-old soccer victory. Will we win? Maybe, provided the other team has just as many issues as we do and their coach is equally as overwhelmed. Regardless, we'll have fun. We'll kick the ball up and down the field. Our goalie--once again under the mistaken impression that we are playing dodge ball--will avoid the other team's shots, no doubt allowing multiple goals. But in the end we will be satisfied. Because, win or lose, there will be snacks after the game. And, as long as there's Sun Chips and juice, who cares what the scoreboard says. Everyone will be happy. Everyone, that is, except Michael. He'll be crying.

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