Life Lessons Learned on the Soccer Field

It is well past midnight and I have failed again to adhere to my promise of going to bed before the witching hour. The good news is that the promise is one that I made to myself so I haven’t any one to answer to other than the voice inside that asks why I am still sitting here.

Seventeen hours spent on the soccer fields under a blue sky punctuated with few clouds and a temperature that was a bit less than 100 but slightly above 90 degrees. The day began with my running up and down a field filled with six year-old girls. As the coach of the dark haired beauty’s team I am responsible for helping to teach them how to play soccer.

Because they are young and relatively inexperienced the rules allow for the coaches to be on the field alongside of the girls. So it is common for us to run amongst them, where we shout words of encouragement and sometimes beg them to focus on the game.

As a father it is filled with great teaching moments and all sorts of opportunities to create memories for the future. Most of the girls on our team are new to the game so we have spent a lot of time trying to teach them the rules and basic plays.  They have the typical focus of six year-olds so it is not uncommon for them to become distracted with discussions of who has a pet and what their names are.

Sometimes they stop mid game and compare hair ribbons or chase butterflies and then moments later they return as fierce competitors hooting and hollering about every goal scored.

I rotate the players through every position. I want them to learn what each is like and to try to understand how/why each is important. The dark haired beauty doesn’t like to play forward very much. She has decided that she likes to play defense and argues against going elsewhere. I appreciate her intensity and interest and try to accommodate her.

During the second quarter she decides that she wants to be goalie.I am concerned about it. These girls don’t understand team defense and most prefer to play offense. My fear is that if the other team pushes the ball their will be few to no defenders between the goal and my daughter. Sure enough they manage to take many shots on goal and end up scoring three goals.

The dark haired beauty is in tears. She doesn’t count the number of times that she blocked the shot, only those in which she failed. Later on she and I will talk about how this is a great example of why we need to play as a team. I’ll tell her that I am proud of her and remind her that we can’t win the game by ourselves.

We lose the game badly and are now 0-3. The girls are upset by this. I have them all take a knee and talk about what they did right and how we need to sustain our effort. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork is what I stress. They are too young to be taught Lombardi’s view of winning.

A few hours later we head to her older brother’s game. These games are far more competitive. They are older and their skill level is far superior to the six year-olds. The superior skills brings out an edge in some of the parents. You find more hooting and hollering from the sidelines and a bigger push to win.

We are short a referee so one of the fathers from the other side is asked to work the sidelines. Those of us who know him aren’t pleased with the selection because over the years he has proven himself to be an ass. As a coach he always placed his son above the team and interaction with him is unpleasant because he is generally obnoxious.

But no one says anything because it is a kid’s game and we figure that he will play it straight. We find out that we are wrong. Midway through the game one of our players takes a shot on goal and scores, or so we think. The substitute linesman waves off the celebration and claims that it is not a goal because the goalie caught the ball.

The problem is that the goalie was standing inside the net when he caught the ball. He was behind the line- it is a goal. However the referee refuses to overrule the substitute linesman and the kids become irate about the stolen goal. It will happen again in the quarter that follows. Irate children complain about it being unfair and maintain that they shouldn’t have to deal with it.

We explain that life isn’t fair and that this is an example of how sometimes things happen. We talk about the need to shake it off and play your game, but they are ten years-old and most of them just aren’t able to give it up.

It affects our performance and we lose the game 4-1. Some parents say that the game really is 4-3 but I am unwilling to settle for that. I tell my son that 4-3 means that we lost just as we lost 4-1. I want him to understand that sometimes we have to fight through things that aren’t fair. Sometimes you fight the system, even though you shouldn’t have to.

When he asks me what they should have done I tell him that they should have focused their anger and frustration on things that they had control over, such as how hard they played. Frankly I think that their frustration is the reason that they lost because when they let it take over they lost their composure.

I make a point of telling my son how proud I am of him and that he is entitled to be angry. I am not saying that he shouldn’t, but this is just one more example of things that we deal with in life. He asks me how the father can be so rude and a cheater.

For a moment I pause and consider how I want to answer the question. Some people would tell you that life is filled with people looking for suckers, but I am not sure that I really want to push that. I think that there is truth to that and many people will take advantage of you- but I don’t want to go there right now.

So I tell him that I feel badly for the other father. His behavior is shameful and wrong- but it is very telling that he is willing to cheat at a kid’s game. In some ways the saddest part of this is the fact that this man has such a poor reputation among the parents. None of us who know him want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Later on we’ll head to IHOP for lunch and over pancakes and omlettes I’ll tell them again that I am proud of them. We’ll spend some more time talking about the power of teamwork. I’ll push it and tell them that it is really important because it is.

Eventually they’ll learn that there are benefits and negatives that are tied into being part of a team. They’ll find out that sometimes being part of a team means that you carry the load so that others can take credit even though they didn’t contribute.

But if things go as I wish they will also see the positive and learn that a team can help us achieve things that would otherwise be impossible.

And now I am off to sleep and dream of things that are indescribable but fill my heart with such happiness that it feels as it would explode. Goodbye for now, I will see you again.

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