This past Spring, I signed up my 8 year old and my 5 year old for the Fall Soccer Season with the Exeter Youth Soccer Association (think the Teamsters Union with shin guards and spikes). My oldest has been playing since she was 5 and I have been helping her teams as the assistant coach since the beginning. This season was going to be my 5 year old’s first season and again I was going to help.
This year I was also going to sign up to be an assistant coach for the 5 year old’s team even though I would have been content on the sidelines cheering. But as is usual, she looked at me and asked, “Daddy please?” (I should be glad she wasn’t looking to buy a car). It should be noted that as an assistant coach of Under 6 kids, you become a sort of kid herder/cheerleader more than a coach. The Head Coach is there to start the little Landon Donovan’s on their way to soccer greatness. It should also be noted the role of Assistant Coach suited me just fine. I filled out the online forms for each girl and checked the box marked ‘Volunteer: Assistant Coach’ for myself. I was very careful to choose this option. Careful like I was performing arthroscopic brain surgery careful. My knowledge of soccer doesn’t go much further past ‘No hands unless you’re the goalie’ and Vuvuzelas may be the most annoying sound ever heard since Roseanne Barr sang the National Anthem. I was not about to risk being thrust in to the role of head coach because I was in a hurry to finish registering. That would be bad.
You must imagine my surprise, when the rosters came out this summer, and next to the ‘Head Coach’ tab was yours truly’s name. And listed under my name were the names of 10 kids under my watchful eye. Surely there must have been a mistake? Some sort of dangling internet Chad must have certainly skewed my original choice. I put a phone call in to the U-6 Coordinator.
“Hey Rich, this is Jimmy Ettele. I think there might be a mistake. I am listed as the Head Coach for Team 2. I signed up to be Assistant Coach.” Rich: “Oh…um….really?” I did not like the sound of his deliberate hesitation. Something told me I was about to hear something like: “No, you’re going to be the head coach”. Rich: “No, you’re going to be the head coach.” Me: “You do know that I know nothing about soccer? I can’t be the head coach.” Rich: “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. There is a book with all the drills. I’ll get someone to help you out.” That is exactly the sort of thing people say in movies, “Don’t worry”, right before Jason Vorhees comes around the corner with a machete and chops them in half. And if he could get me someone to help me out, why wouldn’t he make them the head coach and me the helper in the first place? Something told me I had been had. There was no way I could be put in charge of the future of American soccer in Exeter Township. I heard the last guy who screwed up U-6 got buried under the goalie net at the high school. I was just going to have to tell him “no”. Find someone else because this arrangement could only end up bad.
My first practice as head coach (of course I agreed…like I was really going to say “no” and then my daughter wouldn’t be able to play?) I stood in the middle of our half of a field. I was surrounded by small orange cones, staring parents, 10 kids with the energy scientists create when they split an atom and attention spans of a common housefly with ADHD, and my notebook of pre-scripted drills for me to teach these kids. May I also mention I had no helper? I had no helper.
As a side note: If you have never attempted to coach ten 5 year olds in a sport neither you nor the kids have no real idea about, imagine you had to teach ten chimpanzees how to do sign language after they just got done drinking 6 cups of Espresso. And you have no one to help you, even though the coordinator of the league told you not to worry.
Back to practice. I am attempting to teach them how to kick the ball (according to the book you do not use your toe which goes against everything I learned playing kickball as a kid). I am trying to keep their attention on me instead of the bird flying overhead or waving to players on the other teams on the adjacent fields or telling me:
“Coach look at that train!”
“Coach I got dirt on my shoes!”
“Coach that’s my friend over there!”
“Coach my shoes are untied!”
“Coach she pushed me!”
“Coach my mom came because my dad couldn’t because he was working!”
“Coach one time I caught a snake!”
Then I see something. I see my team try. Really try. I know they are really trying because most have their eyes and mouth scrunched together in concentration and some even have their tongues hanging out. I see them try and I see their excitement over a good kick. I see their smiles after I congratulate them on a job well done. I see them trying to impress their parents. I can see them learning the game in spite of me knowing as much about the game of soccer as I do about changing the head gasket on a Cadillac.
So I have to confess I’m glad the U-6 Coordinator ignored my pleas to not put me in as a head coach. I’m glad I have my 10 kids all wanting to kick the ball again or wave to their friends or tell me about their Kindergarten teacher. I am just as excited as they are when they kick it in the goal. I am learning as much as they are and having as much fun as they are doing it.
I confess that by the end of our first practice, being a U-6 Soccer coach, help or no help, may not be so bad after all.