I coach Under 8s in a “recreational league”. We play 7-a side, 4 x 15 minutes quarters, no offside, no direct free kicks or penalties. This is USA, after all, where we still cling to making the game different from the rest of the world whenever possible.
Mondays and Wednesdays we practice 1 hour. Saturdays we play games, sometimes back to back double headers. 10 games in with a 9-0-1 winning record I can tell you that for me there is nothing recreational about the experience. The league commissioner tells all the coaches it’s about the kids having fun, not winning, that ideally all games should end in a tie. Okay. Whatever I tell myself, I want my kids to win.
On the freeway I worry about blowing a tire, breaking down, being late, not getting that vital player card to the referee before kick off and so forfeiting the game 1-0.
Once I’m on the field, usually alone, with the team banner set up and my son Vincent sleepily kicking balls at an empty net, I begin the wait. The wait for the other parents to show up with my players. Where are they? Why the hell haven’t they let me know if they can’t make it? I sent them a reminder email, a Google map link to where the field is, even an aerial picture with the ground clearly marked, for Dempsey’s sakes!
I check my text messages. I check my voice messages. One of my star strikers, a young boy of remarkable talent and potential had a fever yesterday. Is he okay now? Even if he is, how much stamina will he have? I tell myself if the minimum 5 players don’t show up I’m fine with forfeiting the game. The heck I am. I tell myself to calm down, they’ll be here any second now.
At the coaching certification seminar I was told to actively engage the help and participation of the childrens’ parents. What, are you kidding? That doing so would forge a special bond between the kids and their parents. What are you, nuts? Which “How To Be A Ranting Parent and Raise A Monster Who Wants To Take Over The World” parenting book did you read that in?
This means that at any given moment I have at least 5 parents and an assistant coach simultaneously yelling instructions at the kids. Luckily I have a louder voice than all of them put together. Plus the kids know that I am, at least nominally, the boss. So what do I yell? Well, encouragement way more than instruction. My main instruction lately is simply “Watch the ball. Always know where the ball is”. I yell praise and never, ever criticism. I have to deal with several parents, almost always guys, who know better than me what their Mini-Messis and Ronaldos need to be doing.
I have to make sure every player plays at least half of each game. I have to deal with the guy who tells me I should play his daughter as a striker when she spends most of the game watching airplanes, dogs, kids on the nearby playground or inspecting her fingernails. But in between occasionally confusing them by mixing up their names, I also have the joy of watching kids figure out for themselves how, when, and where to kick the ball
Seeking feedback, I asked my son what was the one thing he hears me yell most often? He thought for a moment and said, “Nothing. When I’m playing I’m focused on playing, not listening to you guys yelling.”
There, I always knew I was the indispensable central cog in that winning machine.
My son’s team has a custom designed crest.
As a registered U8 coach PAL Metro League gave me a ball bag, 5 balls, a soccer field dry erase clipboard. I spent $40 on Amazon tonight on other coaching supplies.
This kid’s team seem to have a biro pen as well as (maybe) a ball. I bet they have passion for the game and skills to make up for all the other “stuff” they don’t have.
But I guess at the end of the day the most important thing is that wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, children all over the world are united in their love of the game.
I wandered lonely as a ref
That books ‘em high and books ‘em hard,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden yellow cards;
Beside the striker, face down in pain,
I reached for red, they cried in vain
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Match of the Day,
They stretched in never-ending line
Be it at home, be it away:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Raising their fingers in sprightly dance.
The Mexican waves beside them danced
In drunken sparkling waves of glee:
The crowd could not help but be cheerful,
Such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the game to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
Replays flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure glows,
And shines just like Sir Alex’s nose.
After school, the world took him away
And showed him many things
None of them to do with football
All the glittering foolishness
That is nothing to do with football
Much later when his back hurt
With missing teeth and a dodgy knee
He came to a land where he had to learn to call football soccer
(Although he still pronounced tomatoes and bananas
The correct way)
At the age of 54 he had a son
Six years later he fell in love with soccer once again
Peering back across the continent
Back across the Atlantic Ocean
He fretted and sweated
Through the season’s peaks and valleys
Of his beloved United
He took a mistress called Earthquake
She lived in San Jose
She wasn’t that good
But he was far from home
And a man can get lonely
Now his son begins to play
And in between writing pleas
For the Quakes to please win
He decides to become
Assistant coach to the U8 team.
After all, no one’s sure how long
Moyes might last at United
And this time, he’ll be ready!
Last Saturday night at the San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids game there was an electrical problem at creaky old Buck Shaw Stadium. (San Jose’s brand new stadium opens 2014). There was some doubt as to whether the floodlights would work. The game kicked off with about 20 minutes of daylight left.
I imagined the ground staff running out and slapping a couple of coats of fluorescent paint on the goal posts and the game continuing with a glow in the dark ball. Maybe not as crazy an idea as it might at first sound.
Given the team’s inability so far this year to score enough goals to win more than 3 games (3-4-6) maybe San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop could start some in the dark training sessions. Remember that scientific study of Ronaldo where he scored 3 goals in total darkness?
Maybe that visualization technique coupled with some lights out training might sharpen things up in front of goal. Couldn’t hurt!
THE $ COST
At first it’s relatively easy. At least, it is if you are a member of that increasingly endangered species the American middle class. You load junior into your van ($30,000). You make sure junior is wearing his/her cleats ($75), socks ($15), shin guards ($20), replica kit ($60) and with a basic first aid kit ($15) you drive ten miles three times a week ($15 gas) to an U6 soccer camp/class ($150 tuition).
COACH v PARENTS
Once there you will be told by the coach with varying degrees of tact, or not, that he is the coach and that coaching from the sidelines is not allowed. Your struggle to want to take over the coaching job will grow as time goes by. We all want to help our kids. We all know what’s best for them. Whether this is more difficult for the proud Dad intent on doing his bit to give the world the next Landon Donovan to keep his pearls of coaching wisdom to himself than the Mom who’s used to always knowing best. Several soccer Dads told me that it was definitely the Moms who were the most vocal.
So Mom and Dad alike will be under strict instructions to stand, biting your tongue and watch as their little pride and joy hares around flailing and kicking in the middle of a small clump of kids playing pineapple ball.
North Carolina ex-pat Englishman Mick Hughs told me that once while watching his eight year old son Evan’s team being coached he just had to make his opinion known as to the coach’s incompetence. The coach marched over to him and somewhat foolishly demanded to know what made Mick think he knew so much about the rules of the game. “I just looked him in the eye,” Mick recalls, “and told him, because I’m a forty two year old Englishman. There was no arguing with that.”
Whether you possess a European or South American advantage when it comes to at least appearing to know more about the game’s finer and fouler points than the average homegrown parent, it is a fact that your behavior on the sideline as a parental spectator will be directly affected by the skill level of junior on the field. If junior is displaying basic passing and either goal scoring or saving abilities, any verbal assaults launched by you at the game will be judged at worst as eccentric. But if you kid has two left feet and the mobility of a potted plant any opinions you voice will be seen by the coach as a pain in the ass. And he already has more than enough problems to contend with on the field, so beware.
to be continued …
Life liberty and the pursuit of the onside ball. We might well have come to USA seeking freedom from European persecutions of one sort or another. If you believe some of the latter day New York Times best seller seekers we may well have come here seeking to practice persecutions of one sort or another without any European hinderence. We might like to walk around thinking 236 years is more than enough time added on for us to have shaped a new and separate identity but the call of the ball is strong, the referee of eternity’s whistle echoes through the empty soccer stadiums of our hearts.
It might take little more than signing junior up to play some non-combatant, harmless, socially sanitized soccer for all those European demons to come howling out of the deserted stands, pouring from the ghostly mouths of millions of fallen fans, thousands of failed pundits. Xenophobia – fear of the other. Religious schism, my divine formation is the one true formation. Political dissent and unAmerican activity facing off for a quick 5-a-side kick to the death. Am I reading too much into it you ask? Are you, gentle reader, guardian of refereeing for the team, by the team, and of the team, reading too little? Let’s kick off and see what the first half brings. Heads you win, tails I lose. Fair enough? So, away we go …
WHY SO MANY PARENTS SIGN JUNIOR UP FOR SOCCER
Most parents, casting around for junior’s first organized sporting activity take a cursory look at soccer and see a nice, safe-looking game that doesn’t seem to involve much dangerous physical contact. This is especially appealing to boomers. More on the reality of that supposed safety of the game perception later. In addition, in the current economic climate with a good deal of house values underwater and a lot of retirement plans going the way of the dinosaur, they also see a game that doesn’t involve masses of expensive equipment. They might have heard US women play the game pretty well and it’s conceivable they vaguely know who David Beckham is, so they sign junior up for soccer.
Kitty is a suburban Seattle mom with two young daughters. Whereas their lives are not majorly shaped by soccer, the game does have some impact on their family. She told me her husband occasionally goes to MLS Seattle Sounders games “but it’s mostly just an excuse to hang out with friends.” However, he is also head coach of a group 7 year olds that includes their daughter Riley.
“Last year, we had trouble scrounging up volunteers, so he was the only coach. But this year, two other dads have stepped in. Both of them are European (Dutch and German) and take the game more seriously than the other parents. I think this Fall will be interesting as the girls will be challenged a bit more than last year. Spacing out and picking daisies whilst goal tending may be frowned upon.”
She also has perfectly valid parenting reasons for enrolling junior in soccer, reasons now backed up by a solid amount of hard data. Kitty puts it this way:
“Girls who play team sports are less likely to get in trouble. So for me, keeping the kid healthy and out of jail is my main reason for getting involved in soccer.”
Such are the inroads the beautiful game has made in recent years into the American mainstream, Kitty also has her own interest in soccer, “the only way that professional soccer impacts me is flipping through a magazine to see Becks in an underwear ad. For that brief, no pun intended, moment before I turn the page, I am a huge soccer fan.”
To be continued …