Okay, it’s that time of year again when I whine. And what time of year would that be, Amy? Any time? Yes. Any time of the year, I whine. We all know it. Let the whining commence!
‘kay. Mate’s soccer coaching has had a setback. Not a huge setback, but my husband did lose his temper (in a faintly passive aggressive way that I must completely blame on myself, because I think I taught him this) and the parents who have known him from anywhere from three to ten years all said, “Wow. I’ve never seen him mad.”
I have. We’re lucky things weren’t worse.
On Friday night (after a series of errands that would make the hardened veteran housewife pale–well, maybe not Julie–she was a Navy wife, the military toughens you up!) we gathered at the soccer park to watch our assorted team of 3, 4, & 5 year old girls and boys face down against the Teutonic Youth Incorporated boys team. Okay, so that wasn’t their official title, but most of them were somehow related–you could tell by the blond hair, blue eyes, and bowl hair cuts of at least five of the boys. And yes–they were ALL boys. There was something disheartening about watching our kids–the four year olds that Mate has to coax on the field (or order off of it because they’re clinging to his leg), the small, timid boys, the frolicsome, competitive girls, and Squish, team mascot/player, face off against a little line of boys who were, to the one, at LEAST two inches taller than our TALLEST boy.
We got slaughtered. The coach had no idea how to play his kids back, and to top it off, there was that REALLY obnoxious soccer parent screaming for blood with every goal. (And that team made a lot of them. They were all big, all in sync, and all SIX. And did I mention the all boys?)
My two favorite moments of that game? Twice, Squish had the ball roll OVER HER FOOT, then she looked up and saw that massive pack of kids running directly AT HER, and proceeded to scream and bolt in the opposite direction. Twice. Yup, folks, that one has my athletic ability, there is no question about it.
And that was Friday.
Saturday, Mate’s birthday, we lost 15-1.
Mate’s team this year is young. The U10s needed a coach, and he said he’d do it, but he was bringing Zoomboy (another team mascot/player, don’t let the uniform fool you) onto the team. He wanted to coach his own kid. (God knows why. So far, ladybug catching, cloud counting, and dirt exploration have yet to contribute a single goal to that kids four year soccer career.) The team he got was mostly eight year olds and first year players. There is one other kid besides Zoomboy who is into his fourth year in soccer, but I think I’ve already explained that Zoomboy doesn’t really count.
Something weird has happened in the seeding. There is one other team in our division that is as… well, let’s say young and inexperienced, and leave it at that. We have yet to play them. We’ve spent the first four games of the season watching coaches with really excellent players put those players on the bench so our kids could find their own squirrel tails with both hands and not feel like crap as they were getting played into the ground. Mate has been very grateful–and very complimentary of these coaches. “Thanks for not beating the crap out of us, my guys had a good game.” He’s felt bad–the really good kids aren’t getting any playing time, and his team isn’t going to win. It’s hard–he gets excited during practice because his kids are LEARNING HOW TO PLAY–they’re executing plays, they’re understanding the game, they’re excited about what they’re doing–but when they get to the field, they’re facing teams who have known what they were doing since they were five years old–which was half their lifetime ago. He’s been patiently gritting his teeth, telling his players they’re doing a good job and to go out and have fun, and praying they can make it to the time when the teams get re-seeded and his team actually gets to play against other teams of the SAME ability. He doesn’t care if they lose 2-0 when they’re playing their hearts out. It’s when they lose 15-1, and they’ve given up at the end that kills him.
Well, that’s what happened Saturday, while the other coach screamed at his kids to punch up their defense and the other parents screamed for blood with every goal.
And one of his kids– we still don’t know which one–likes to punch kids on the shoulder–it’s a “good game” sort of thing. A little boy sort of thing. Mate didn’t see it as he was leading the kids through the high fives, but the little boy socked the other kids on the shoulder instead of high fiving while he said “Good game.”
He socked the coaches daughter (who played like a champion) on the shoulder, and she cried. The coach came over with the ref, and Mate said, “I’m sorry about that, did you see who did it?” The little girl didn’t. Mate said, “I can talk to the team, but I can’t call the player out right now unless you saw who did it.” The little girl still couldn’t name the kid who had socked her in the shoulder, and Mate promised again to talk to the team and try to get an apology, when the other coach–remember, the one who was coaching his players to slaughter us and screaming across the field? That one? Said, “Yeah, coach, you go ahead and talk to your team!”
And Mate said, “Maybe my kids were just pissed because they lost 15-1.”
And he turned away and walked off, while his assistant coach talked about how punching was bad and the other coach stared at him like bad sportsmanship starts and ends with the high-fives at the end of the game.
Mate would tell you it’s not his finest moment and he’s not proud of it. I know he’s probably thinking of sixteen other ways he could have handled that moment–hey, I’ve been there, I know the feeling. But sportsmanship can not simply be a one way street. It cannot just be something shown by the losers when there’s dirt all over their faces, it has to be shown by the winners who are helping them up off the ground. (Actually, I hope this is sort of the lesson they’re learning in New York and Washington with this whole “Take Over Wall Street” thing–all the non-taxable rich people are the absolute pinnacle of bad sportsmanship, and those of us getting knocked in the dirt are not always going to remember our manners when we’re fishing ourselves out.)
Now one of the things that probably made this other coach angry was that the one girl on his team was his daughter, and he felt it very personally when she was disrespected. I wonder if he realized that the little lost soul on the field, the one who kept losing his shoe and didn’t know which way to run, was our son, and that he spent the least amount of time on the field as anyone else on our team? Yes, he’s our son, but he’s also a member of a collective for this moment, and in this case, the collective needs outweighed his need to wander in the mud puddle and lose his shoe. Did the other coach put that together with the fact that, yes, he may want his daughter’s team to win, but his team wasn’t the only set of little kids on the field, and that sometimes some folks need to sit out so that the collective can benefit? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking that he feels terribly, terribly wronged. But our little boys treated his team respectfully when they were playing–and probably one of them didn’t realize the terrible disrespect in that playful sock on the arm. (I’m thinking it was playful– these aren’t the kids that roughhouse when they’re at rest, and there’s not a lot of competition and violence in them. I can’t imagine that they just go around smashing on other kids for the hell of it, because they don’t do it during practice.)
What I do know is it took a birthday dinner (my parents took us out), three hours at the computer, one John Wayne movie, a trip to the park and three Buffy episodes for Mate to finally, finally let it go, and when I woke him up this morning, (twenty minutes late) he didn’t believe it was Monday. Apparently he lost his entire Sunday to brooding about those two games and how he had failed his teams.
And I’m thinking that to me, he’s probably the best coach in creation, because soccer really is just a game to him, and it’s all that other stuff that comes first.