I’m the assistant coach of my son’s soccer team this year. It’s the first time for both me and the head coach.
I know a lot about soccer. I grew up playing and was on a high school team that won the state championship.
But the challenge here is not about your skill dribbling or passing. It’s about how to manage a herd of seven year olds.
The day of the first game the team meets early to go over some skills. The kids are lying on the ground and rolling on top of each other. Some have their shoes off.
I ask them to line up in single file. But I don’t know any of their names. They ignore me.
I look over at the opposing team. The kids are dribbling around small red cones in surgical precision like professionals.
They are being directed by a guy in a bright red shirt that screams COACH in capital letters. He calls them by name. He can do that because he has brought name tags and attached them to each kid’s shirt.
And they are obeying his every command because he has a magical device that he blows into whenever they slack off. It’s a whistle.
The head coach and I look at each other. Nobody told us about the red shirt or the name tags or the whistle. We feel like rookies.
My first realization: I need a whistle.
My second: I am the the one being coached.
“Do you know any drills?” I ask the head coach.
“Let’s just do what he does,” he says, pointing to the guy in the COACH shirt.
“Totally,” I say.
My father coached my soccer and baseball teams when I was growing up. He made it look easy.
The spirit of that era was captured by the movie the Bad News Bears, in which the coach played by Walter Matthau took turns swilling beer or yelling at the umpires.
That wouldn’t fly today. Before we are allowed to coach we fill out pages of forms that amount to an FBI background check.
They demand several character references and the addresses of the last three places you have lived. You have to take an online written test and get 90 percent of the questions correct.
And you have to be sensitive in a way that we never were. It’s not about winning we are reminded. We are not to keep score. If a game is lopsided we should have kids switch teams to even it out.
Some of the games will be played as “silent soccer.” That’s when the coaches and parents are asked to refrain from shouting any encouragement from the sidelines, the thought being that the kids will work it out.
As the first game is about to start I pull the kids into a huddle. They look at me expectantly.
I find myself falling into the mantra I remember from high school: “Let’s get out there and play our game,” I say. “Take shots on goal. We want to win.”
Then I catch myself.
I look around to see if any league officials or parents are watching. No one seems to have heard me.
I take a step back.
“Actually, kids we are just here to have fun,” I say.
“Does everyone know everyone else’s name?”
I realize that I may have to be silent about winning, but I am definitely going to get a whistle.
**Published by Ted Merz on Sep 28, 2014 **