During Stacey's soccer season, she developed some good skills at goalie, and her footwork and field reading are on par with about half of the team. She played goalie for about 2/3 of the games, and played with my philosophy of coming out from the goal and challenging players as they approached before they could get good shots off. For the whole season she was only scored on once. She also made improvements on offense, scoring the winning goal as forward in the second half of the same game she got scored on as goalie. She'll be a great player, and her confidence and ball handling has improved.
On the other hand, the atmosphere of kids' sports sometimes sickens me. Parents shout angrily from the sidelines, yell at referees, referees yell at coaches, coaches yell at the girls and each other. This season, the girls started getting pushy on the field, no doubt at the encouragement of parents and coaches. Not every game is bad, but in most games you can see clearly the lack of right-mindedness of everyone involved in the game. Stacey is still a clean player, and was mortified when, after a girl pushed her during a game, she flailed to regain her balance and flattened the girl with an elbow to the chest. Stacey, at 11, is 5'6" and strong, but not violent, and will make sure a downed player gets back up instead of press the advantage for points in a game.
That's my girl, strong, smart, compassionate, and the best goalkeeper on the team. But she isn't a superstar, and she isn't accepted, for whatever reason, with the popular girls on the team, and was also marginalized by the coaches during the tournament. She did not get to play goalie, which I assume is from her perceived lack of aggression - don't put the nice kid in a key position, and her good plays during the championship game went unheralded by the team and coaches, and her mistakes criticized by both.
The head coach's daughter was a roughly equivalent player to Stacey. She had the same temperament, non-aggressiveness, and nervousness under pressure. She had the same intelligence, reading the play and being in the right spot on defense, but occasionally being passed by confident, fast opponents. When she made a mistake, you could see the girls attempt to censor themselves so as not to disparage the coach's kid, and the coaches were quick with applause and "that's OK, keep trying, doing good." When the team stars made mistakes, the girls were quick to shout similar encouragement. When Stacey and similarly skilled players made mistakes, the disparagement was uncensored. I think this is in the nature of kids and their pack orders.
The end result of all this nonsense was that Stacey's team won the championship of their division, and each player got trophies of a large chested tween wearing baggy soccer clothes and a confused expression. To try to make the moment more memorable, the coaches tried to say personal anecdotes about each player. They were familiar with the star players' life stories, what was going through their heads the first time they saw them play, etc., and for the players who weren't as accomplished and flashy, they got variations on "tries real hard" and "always plays where I tell her to." Despite her improvement during the year and being the keeper with the best record, Stacey's trophy was accompanied by a "tries real hard" and a botched anecdote about her game-winning shot earlier in the season that included "I saw a foot, but not a face, and then Stacey getting patted on the back, so I assume she made the shot." Amazing...ly bad delivery. However, coach, if you stumble across this some time in the future, no hard feelings, congratulations, and it was great to see your daughter make the season ending final goal. She deserves that memory with all the hard work she did this season.
So the question is, how is it that I don't hate any of these people, or have animosity towards them? They are the Buddha standing before me, helping to free me from attachments. Also, I have already volunteered with the U-12 coordinator to coach a team next year, and have signed up for an F-license class. I won't coach to vindicate wrongs against Stacey, and I do intend to win as many games as I can, but I want to see a team in this league coached the way Henry Bell, one of the WASA directors who sub-coached Stacey's team a few seasons ago, would coach it - games should be fun, and you should see if you can win without hurting anyone. Also, if each player is unique and contributes, you should be able to say something positive and meaningful about each of them equally.
For example, here's what I would have said about another marginalized player, Kristen, who received an "always plays where I tell her to" speech. Kristen was a little heavy, discouraged for most of the season, not quite in the top-tier social circle, but determined and skilled mentally, and her good defense helped keep us in the game many times throughout the season:
"Kristen is now the best fullback in the league, bar none. She recovered from an injury to be a valuable contributor, learned to control her temper, and learned how to read body language very well. Many of you probably saw her make some key blocks in the championship game to help keep us in the running when our faster players had started to wear themselves out. Without her contributions, we may not be getting these trophies now. Thanks, Kristen, we really needed you."
How hard is that? Her work merited at least that much effort -- and she's not even my kid. In fact, Stacey and she fought a little bit last season.
What would I have said about Stacey?
"Stacey is the goalie with the best record on this team. One goal allowed all season. (pause for applause) She aggressively leaves the comfort zone of the net, and risks injury to charge up and grab balls before the opponent's forward can set up for a shot. She shocked some of the teams we faced with her bold plays, and made them a little more timid, which helped us win games. In other positions, she steadfastly refused to push to get a ball, preferring to play with her feet instead of her hands. The opposing team was not the enemy; in fact, she had many cheery conversations with girls on other teams as time allowed, and was quick to check on their players who were injured or knocked down. This empathy with players on other teams did not cost us a point all season, and helped other girls feel good about playing in this league. You are a moral example to the rest of us, and we were sure as hell glad to have you on the team."
I love you, kid, you're still the best.
Changing gears, I am also on a soccer league. It is a co-ed, over 30 league, and there are some pretty good teams out there. Yesterday we played a very good team, and it looked for a while like we were going to get a whoopin', but my team and I came together after the first quarter and really turned things around. It was loads of fun. Loads of pain today as I start to recover, but loads of fun then.
In the first quarter, one of the first few plays of the game had an opponent forward run by me faster than I could keep up, and go in for an easy goal. I was shocked, as were the two people in front of me he zipped by, and our goalie who missed the block. I took my figurative car out of first gear after that, found myself quickly running out of breath, and had two collisions with a large player on the other team. He scolded me after the second hit, I assured him it was unintentional, we high-fived each other, and play continued.
At that moment, something happened in me. I think I went into combat mode. I had the physical discomfort of being winded and having been jarred a couple times, the emotional impact of being down 2 to nothing early in the game, and then the perceived threat of the other player who told me, in veiled terms but nonetheless clearly, that I had better not run into him again. I got calm, my breathing slowed, and I felt energized. I saw the field better, saw where people were going to pass, saw who was winded, who was trying to fake me out, and who would be surprised if I charged them. I started making plays and stopped being clumsy.
By the end of the half, we were tied at 2. I stayed in the entire second quarter and most of the third, and then took a break. During my break, we went up 3-2. I came back in to finish the game, and immediately snuck up on a fast player and stole the ball from him, drove it up field (very uncommon for me), passed it to a forward, who took it in for a goal. My first assist.
We won 4-2, and several of us were shaky and overheated after the game. I'm as sore as I've ever been after a game, and elated at my team and my own personal performance. Plus, my wife was in attendance, and got to see me being cool. Shwing.