Beautifully Awkward, Take 2: Bumming it as Coach


photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc
photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

It tells you all you need to know that one of my most revered coach heroes was known as “Bum.”

I draw on others, too. Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos coach. I look to legendary John Wooden and inspirational Jim Valvano, in college basketball. When I need to be a tactician, a teacher or a motivator, you can’t beat them.

They have an abundance of championships to prove it.

Bum Phillips, though, never won a Super Bowl. Hell, he never even got to one.

But any coach who’s been on the hot seat or a lame duck or any such sticky situation must channel his inner Bum now and then. Especially for the beautifully awkward.

It’s easy to find the awkward. Next season, a new coach will lead my U11 girls’ team. It’s Grace’s team, too. I’ve been her coach for all but two of her seasons. The club decided, after a rocky start and a couple of parental concerns, to make a move.

bum1U11, 8v8 club soccer proved to be quite a challenge.

So, the veteran coach who specializes in making the enthusiastic team the team no one wants to play must step aside. Word leaked out the week before an out-of-town tournament about the incredible coach who will take my place.

Where tinfoil and rhinestones are on my resume, this coach has tempered steel and gemstones. She works for my alma mater, so how bad can she be? Where gumption and fast-track learning are listed in my history, she brings Olympic-level experience.

I had to take a winless team with a bit of dissention and no substitute players to an out-of-state tournament. To compete with teams with guest players and track records. And we needed results, the club told me. We couldn’t go to Columbia and get steamrolled.

I don’t mind the change for my daughter.

I did mind the timing.

The lame duck coach had better find a way to soar. Or at least glide.

bum2

The awkward made a rowdy entrance at my next practice.

Noise filled my head. Which parents knew? What did they tell their kids? I felt like a substitute teacher. No offense subs, but you know it’s different. We had an awful practice. Listless, fruitless. The noise grew louder. Why should they listen to me?

Yet we all turned down Interstate 77 that weekend to take on the world.

# # #

When I write. When I father. When I coach.

These are the spaces that give me hope. They’re the places where I don’t feel isolated or inadequate or misfit. Words flow. Fathering, while not always smooth, feels natural.

The Xs and Os and motivation and teaching from the sideline roil and stir and make me feel tall and natural.

“Try to shut out all the noise,” one parent suggested. “Just coach with your heart.”

And, so I did. With abandon. And fire. And belief.

grace
Grace, in the center of it all (blue shirt).

I showed the girls the medal my team won at this tournament years ago as a finalist. I let them feel its heaviness in their hands. As they passed it around, I told them they too could bring home something like this. I believed they could.

And before we took the field for our first match, I looked at the team with just enough players to play, about to take on the tournament host. I railed on with that Us Against the World mentality, then set them loose. My team.

No matter what tomorrow brings. This day, they were my team.

# # #

Many things happened in the 27 hours that followed.

First goals this season by two girls. Injuries. Tears. Horrible calls, harsh words. But also unity. Girls gathered at picnic tables together, talking and laughing, leaping into swimming pools. Killing pizza and decibel levels. Drawing together closer than ever.

We didn’t leave with medals.

eliquoteWe did win a game. I did ditch the stoicism and contemplation I usually brought to a sideline. I replaced it with passion and feistiness. Bad officiating helped. Our girls were sent flying on fouls not called. My notebook followed. So did my hat.

I stomped and scowled. I bit my tongue. I seethed and I glared.

“We have the nicest coach,” one parent said when opposing families chimed in about my flying hat. “He must really be mad.”

Yes, mad. And awkward, too. I believe you get this riled up only about something you’re passionate about. Or someone you’re passionate about. Miles of interstate highway away from club politics, officials might see blowout score lines and no medals.

They might field complaints and concerns.

But the beauty wasn’t in those things, anyway. It was in the relief and jubilation of a 1-0 opening win, our first of the year. It was in a lunch break filled with thoughts that we could pull this off. It was in sisterhood galvanized by the heat of battle.

It was in wiped-away tears and ice packs and an unrelenting attack on the Cici’s Pizza buffet. Maybe all that does make me a Bum.

But that’s Coach Bum, to you. Until the very end.

bum3

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37 thoughts on “Beautifully Awkward, Take 2: Bumming it as Coach”

  1. I’m sorry about the coaching gig. I know that the coaches my son has had that made it fun were far better than the coaches who made it all about winning. It is very possible, probable even that teaching kids to love the sport and teaching them about good sportsmanship will serve them far better than teaching them to win at all costs.

    1. Thanks Rabia – but if it’s best for this team, I’m all for it. I think the kids learn better when it’s fun. Youth sports involve so much more diverse lessons than just tactics.

  2. It’s those kind of changes and politics that made me take M out of sports. He wasn’t invested in any one sport, just did it as something to do, so it was not a big deal (he did end up in martial arts for 7 years instead).

    If he had really loved soccer or baseball, I am not sure what I would have done. Figured out a way to deal with it, I guess. I’m sorry this happened to you and they couldn’t have waited to share the news.

    1. Politics come into play in life, and the best we can do is try to delay their encroachment as long as we can for our kids. At least M did find that outlet that fit him.

      There are always different leagues, different coaches, and you can find the one that gives you what you’re in for. The timing was bad in this case.

      But when the game starts, all that matters is the kids.

  3. Aww Eli… leaving your coaching post? That’s just wrong! 🙂 But I concur with Rabia above. You have taught these kids so much more than how to be a winning machine. They are KIDS, for heaven’s sake! I love that you took the time to smell the roses alongside your team… not too many things more fun than a pizza buffet at an away game. Awesome memories I know the girls will treasure. As for your Awkward Moment, this was beautifully recorded and a real pleasure to read. Mother Hen

    1. Just one, but yes, unfortunate. I will still have a U14 team, and I love that group. They are kids and they have accomplished much – and more importantly, got to spend time together this weekend working through the fun and the difficult. That’s worth so much more than scores.

      Thank you so much for coming by, Dorreen!

  4. Oh man, I had no idea! I am so sorry, E! I don’t even know what to say, except that it’s their loss, unfortunately it’s the girls’ loss and they are not to blame. Awww, you deserve better!

    1. It came on all of a sudden. I try not to think about. I hope the girls will be in good hands. I know that they will get my best because I’m still their coach! Thanks TG.

  5. Ah – sorry to hear you aren’t coaching anymore – but a great post about how sports for kids is about so much more than the sports. Don’t get me wrong – that part – the competitive part – is important – but I think they learn and remember much from everything else that comes with the package. And it sounds like that had that experience.

    1. Thanks Louise. I still have a U14 girls team I adore, but apparently the days of Coach Daddy are done. What am I supposed to do with the blog now?

      We’ve had a great run, it’s true. Some of the lessons have even been about soccer. Not a single regret.

  6. People say that about me when I get mad. “She’s usually so nice.. she must be REALLY mad.”
    Indeed!
    So sorry about parents and politics and suckiness where that is concerned. I have little patience for it. I get myself in trouble a lot. I’m not meant to lead or to coach, I should think. I have my own places on the team.
    Also, you could coach my kids any day of the week!

    1. Thanks Tamara. It’s become more comical since I posed that. Looks like the change will happen just before the end of season tournament now.

      Cue up another round of awkward as I find a place to sit with the parents on the other sideline while they play.

  7. That must hurt. My husband coaches some of the kids’ teams, and it is not easy. I just can’t seem to “get” the competitive drive needed for team sports. I want my kids to have an activity or two that they are passionate about and feel proud about, whether they ever score 5 goals, attain first chair in band, or master triple pirouettes. You will always be Coach Daddy to your kids. 😉

    1. I just wish they’d waited until the offseason. It’s a challenge, for sure, but I’m so in it. And I’m a proponent of the competitive drive – it’s when we forget this is about the kids that it gets off track.

      It’s sometimes not even about winning; I think sometimes parents have a sense for where their child is and what they can do that might not jive with reality.

      I’m still going to be Coach to my U14 team, for the foreseeable future, and I will embrace that.

  8. It’s awful, simply awful when politics affect young children’s sports. They are playing to play not to go to the Olympics. Your teaching them to enjoy the game, to learn teamwork and to instill what a champion really is will be your legacy. Even if it is awkward one.

    1. Thing is, if the decision was for the best of the girls, I’d be fine with that. I’m a parent on this team, too. I just don’t know why they had to announce it right before our tournament.

      We’ll keep learning as a team, for sure. The awkward seems to be my specialty. I’ll own it!

  9. I say Hurrah! to the awkward and passionate legacy. And I’m bummed at how the whole thing went down but nothing is as consistent as change … Love the heart you showed. The ferocity of heart. That means more than any win, dear sir. And it’ll be remembered. Besides that, you’re damn funny. Not everyone can pull off both.

    1. Embrace it, right? Just have to make the best of it. Ferocity and compassion, and the knowledge to know which one is right in the moment. Humor when you’re not sure.

  10. You know, I’m not a fan of the coach of my son’s football coach but my son loves the game, loves to play. Of course, he likes to win but, mostly, the kid just wants to play ball. I miss the days when it was just about the game and not just about the win.
    I’m sure the time you spent with those girls meant a ton to them and they learned a whole lot more than how to play soccer.

    1. A kids’ love of the game – any game – is the most important yet often least-regarded factor in youth sports. I’ve always felt my secret ingredient was my ability to ‘trick’ kids into developing skills through games they enjoy.

      What’s funny is those methods make practice look too “kiddie” to some, because they don’t resemble six weeks on Parris Island.

      I always feel good when a grown-up kid I hardly recognizes me approaches me out in public somewhere because he remembers me from soccer.

      And when he or she still calls me Coach, and tells me about a game or a practice they still remember? That’s when I know I’m doing this right.

      Thanks Sandy.

  11. I think it’s good to display our passion for something — to wear our hearts on our sleeve every now and then. or maybe even always. I don’t think it can hurt our child to see us as more than one dimensional: or, in different roles. Sounds like you gave those girls a great gift that weekend. Far beyond simply winning. 🙂

    1. I think always would wear us out – but when it’s right, I’ll do it every single time, Rore. This whole experience has been interesting for Grace, who sees this happen to her dad.

      I think she’s going to be just fine.

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