Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Hearty Soccer Dad

My wife is very sneaky. Either that, or I don’t listen. I prefer to think of her as sneaky, but it’s probably the latter. Either way, due to her sneakiness or my inability to pay attention, this past spring I ended up being a baseball coach without my prior knowledge. I showed up to my oldest son’s first T-ball practice ready to watch from the bleachers, and she handed me a jersey and a hat and said, “By the way, you’re coaching.”

“What!?! Honey, I have no idea what the schedule looks like! I don’t have a clue if I can make any of the practices or the games!”

“Don’t worry, you can make all of them.”

“Oh, OK... Well kids, who wants to try to hit my curve ball?”

“It’s T-ball, honey.”

“OK. Who wants to make dirt circles with their cleats?”

So, toward the end of this summer when my wife casually mentioned that our oldest would be starting soccer this year, I immediately got defensive.

“Honey, I don’t know the first thing about soccer! It’s been 32 years since I played AYSO, and I was a goalie, because I didn’t understand it then, either. There is no way I can…”

“Relax, Captain Overreaction, you’re not the coach.”

“OK, great. When’s the first game?”

After experiencing coaching kindergarteners first-hand, I was looking forward to a relaxing soccer season, sitting on the sidelines in my lawn chair, leading my two youngest boys in “Ra-Ra-Sis-Boom-Ba” cheers as we watched their older brother dominate the field and score goal after exciting goal.

That didn’t happen.

I arrived with my family at the Rocklin soccer fields the first Saturday morning completely unprepared for what I would experience. Not unprepared in a “did we forget something?” sense, because believe me, we didn’t. The soccer game was only scheduled to last one hour, but I was packing more gear than I would normally take camping for a week. Chairs, blankets, water bottles, snacks, beach umbrellas, shade tents, hats, jackets, coolers… we almost didn’t fit in the Ford Expedition.

I had inquired a couple of times to my wife that morning as to why we needed so much stuff, to which she finally responded, “Shut up and help me close this tailgate.”

I started to get a feel for the program when we turned down the street toward the soccer fields. I remember the soccer fields of my youth looking something like this: grass fields with goals on each end with kids playing soccer and parents standing on the sidelines watching. I saw none of that at first. What I saw looked like a cross between an upscale refugee camp and the midway at a state fair. Shade tents were everywhere, but it was only 78 degrees. There were four soccer fields laid out side by side, and the areas in between them were so full of chairs, blankets, umbrellas, shade tents and coolers that it was hard to discern which field they were set up to view.

Twenty minutes later, after I had unloaded the car, we began to make our way past the ends of the fields, looking for the field that my son would soon dominate. At the first field I noticed that each team had a 4 x 8-foot vinyl banner, staked into the ground on their respective sidelines, being held in place with very well-made PVC banner stands. The banners weren’t homemade. They were the real deal, straight out of the custom print shop. Any U.S. corporation would be proud to have banners that nice at their next trade show. They were professionally printed, emblazoned with the team names and artistic logos. One had a flaming soccer ball and the other had an alligator wearing soccer cleats. They both had all the players' names on them, ensuring only one season of useful life.

“What couple of over-achiever parents came up with those?” I wondered aloud.

“Every team has one, including ours. You helped pay for it.”

“I did what?... This is the five and six-year-old league, right?”

“Get over it, sweetheart.”

We reached our field, and the other team dads and I spent the next 20 minutes setting up our tent city. By the time we finished, it was game time. Time for my son to dominate the soccer field!

I have already mentioned that I was unprepared for this new experience. This was not due to the game being more thrilling than I had anticipated. My son didn’t dominate anything. No child on the field dominated anything. The hopeful feelings I had about an exciting and action-packed soccer match quickly vanished with the first play near the goal.

We had the ball.
One of our boys kicked the ball toward the opposing goal.
The parents leaned forward in their seats.
He stood and admired his kick.
The other players stood and admired his kick.
The ball rolled in front of the goal.
The goalie, not two feet from the ball, stood and admired his kick.
Some of our players and some of their players ran toward the ball.
The parents leapt to their feet in anticipation of a happening of some kind.
The two teams' players arrived at the ball at the same time.
They stopped.
No one was sure whose turn it was to kick it.
They discussed it.
The parents lurched forward, hearts in their throats, shouting, “Kick it!”
No one kicked it.
The goalie wandered over and picked it up.
The parents fell back into their seats, hands thrown into the air, looking at each other with desperate and wild eyes.
“Why didn’t they kick it?”

We repeated that process no less than 40 times over the course of the first half.

There is the emotion and thrill of a fast-paced professional sporting event, and then there is the raw, gut-wrenching, breath-taking angst that comes from a sporting event where nothing is happening like it should. The sheer amount of highs and lows we experienced inside a five minute period was enough to leave a healthy adult gasping for air. My head pounded. My heart palpitated. My palms sweated. I was emotionally and physically drained. And absolutely nothing had happened.

When the other team finally scored a goal against us in the third quarter, it was strangely welcome. They had scored against us, which was not the situation I was rooting for, but at the same time, I was so darned relieved that an actual play had occurred with an actual outcome, I found myself happy and momentarily at peace. When the post-goal wave of normalcy rolled over me, I realized for the first time that day just how tense the game was making me.

I’m not sure what it is about soccer. I mean, nothing worked quite right when I coached these same aged boys and girls in T-ball, but it wasn’t nearly as nerve-racking to watch. It probably has to do with the fact that the soccer ball is always in play, so we the parents are always expecting the players to actually keep playing. When they stop with the ball at center field to inspect the grass or chase a butterfly, it is tolerable, and even humorous to witness. But when the ball is mere inches from the goal and all the players seem to suddenly forget what to do next, the breathless anticipation is almost too much to bear.

Whatever the reason, I was watching five and six-year-olds play soccer, and the emotional strain was so great, I was actually starting to worry about a possible sideline heart attack. I’m almost 40 now. I have to start taking my heart health seriously!

So, after the game, the team dads got together and we decided to all chip in and buy one of those portable defibrillators. The way we figure it, if the kids don’t improve to a level of at least kicking the ball and following it, the chances are pretty good that one of us is going down before the season is over.

It was an expensive unit, but we decided, what the heck, we already bought an expensive banner, and there’s no way that thing is going to save one of our lives. I guess when we finally revive the first poor, unfortunate dad who succumbs to the cardiac arrest-inducing inaction on the field, we can always break down the PVC stand and use the banner as a stretcher.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2010 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. The first guy to need that defibrillator buys it. If no one uses it, then you can return it. That is how our team figured it out. You can come to our sideline and suck on Prozac if you need seems to help.

  2. Bob and I are laughing so hard that we're crying!!!!! We've been there I assure you!!! Great post!! :)


  3. There's nothing quite like that "Wide World of Sports Momement" when one of your 5 yr old players drives the ball downfield,comes within 2 feet of the goal, wide open with no defense to block, and he suddenly STOPS.....runs in the opposite direction chasing a flying insect, yelling "Bee! Get him!"
    Priceless! I doubt even Phil Jackson could harness and re-focus this type of energy and concentration.
    I know. I've been there!
    -Coach Scott (Lake Oswego Dynamite Kickers, Kindergarten Division)

  4. Kristy Flint (mom of Chad #18 U-6 Boys Battle Ground Tigers)October 21, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    At least you're not like Rod, who sits on the sidelines asking me how Chad is doing at his piano lessons!!!! Read between the lines and you can be the judge of Chad's speed and agility on the soccer field!!!

  5. When my son, now a Captain in the Marines, had his first soccer game as a 5 year old we were less than 5 minutes into the game when one of the little girls on his boy-girl team sat down in the middle of the field, refused to budge, and yelled for all to hear..."WHEN DO WE GET OUR TROPHIES?" was a long season!