My heart didn’t give out Sunday night.
My deodorant definitely did.
See, when Matt Prater’s kick sailed through the uprights to give my Denver Broncos a stomach churning 51-48 victory against the Dallas Cowboys, my pulse could finally start a slow decline. For a coach, it’s sometimes tougher on the ticker to watch a team you love, but don’t coach.
What a weekend.
It included a day hot as skillet and packed with three straight soccer games. (Guess who wore a black polo shirt on the sideline for the 85-degree day?). Those three soccer games included:
- A gritty 2-0 victory for Marie’s unbeaten Muleicorns (really their name!)
- A 2-2 tie for Elise’s Dragons (with no substitutes for either team!)
- A 7-1 loss for Grace’s Dynamite (against a team we beat 2-0 on opening day)
Emotionally drained and slightly sunburned at midnight Saturday, I watched my alma mater, UNC Charlotte, fall behind by 21 points in the fourth quarter in a game I DVRed, only to rally for 29 points in a 53-51 victory against nationally-ranked Gardner-Webb.
So, that’s 109-108, good guys, if you’re keeping track at home. (With goals from each of my girls!)
That luckily doesn’t include the pretend butt-kickin’ my fantasy team, the Sun City Skunk Kings, are currently enduring at the hands of my brother-in-laws’ team, the Steepleton Silverbacks.
Here’s the thing, though: This lineup isn’t unusual for a typical weekend.
As head coach to one soccer team, assistant to two more, owner of a fantasy team, supporter of an NFL team and alumnus of a school playing its first season of football, I’m used to tons of games between Saturday morning and Sunday night. Wins, losses, ties, goals and heartbreaks.
What I’m not used to is losing my cool.
And my edge.
# # #
I’m the coach who says winning will take care of itself. Then, more times than not, wins anyway.
It’s years of experience. It’s always keeping the kids first, not just saying that’s what I believe. It’s an emphasis of effort over outcome, teamwork over titles. A love for your teammates. And the game. Don’t worry about what the opponent is doing, I say. Worry about what your team is.
But as goals piled up against Grace’s Dynamite … 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 … the coach who usually watches the game with arms folded, hand on a chin sometimes, processing, assessing, adjusting … well, he had nothing. Nothing but exasperation, frustration, and unflattering demonstration.
Not nearly enough imagination, explanation or affirmation.
As the Dynamite wilted in their pink jerseys under harsh sunrays and an opponent that sensed their weakness, my coaching philosophy shriveled, too. Lost were lessons to be found in adversity, that thought that a child’s mental musculature will flex when they’re tasked with finding a way to fight back.
Instead, I wrote them – and myself – off. At 2-0.
# # #
The discomfort of my degradation on field 1 that day lacked the clarity I needed to make sense of it, during, and immediately after.
When Grace, usually a wellspring of heart and scoring opportunities, asked to be taken out of the game, moved back to defense, I questioned her. “Why? What’s wrong with you?”
“Why won’t you help us?”
When Grace and her teammates retreated, flat-footed, as the spirited opponent beat them to every ball, I wondered out loud what was going on.
The blue team isn’t walking!
“Dad,” Grace answered. “We’re walking because we’re tired.”
# # #
At halftime, I like to stand alone for a minute or two. Let the kids guzzle Gatorade and put away the Powerade, talk it over on their own, then join the fray and give a couple of points before the second half. This day, I stood on the field with my assistants, indignant, speechless, disconnected.
I don’t remember what we told the team, but they went out in the second half to a worsening outcome. I gritted my teeth. I walked away from the bench.
What can I do?
I gazed at the sky, wondering what dad must think of his son right now.
The team sat silent afterward, cookies and juice packs distributed.
Still, I had nothing.
I kept my eyes on the ground at my feet, the tension of parents and players waiting for answers, for hope, for perspective, for something.
“Bring it in,” I told my Dynamite. “I’ll see you at practice on Tuesday.”
Where was the knowledge? Where was the hope? Where were the words that could have given some indication I had an answer, a direction to turn, a way to make a lesson of the mess we left behind?
I imagined the coaches I admired most – Mike Shanahan, Bill Walsh, John Wooden. What would they have done?
UNC Charlotte coaches, when fate looked grim late in the game, told their players, “be at your best when your best is needed.” I could have said that to my Dynamite, right?
I could have listened to that advice, too.
# # #
This is youth soccer, after all. Not life or death.
But the lessons … I take them seriously.
The kids will forget the scores. They’ll forget the standings. What I hope is that 10, 20, 30 years from now, they’ll remember the lessons.
That’s why, as soon as I’m done writing here, I’ll open a fresh page on a tattered notebook. I’ll turn past notes from Saturday.
I’ll make a new plan.
With an old philosophy.
Because right now, it’s 0-0 again.
And I take heart in that.