The whistle blew three times causing my kids to jump in exuberance while their faces lit up with joy. Let me stop for a second before I continue. When I say, “my kids,” I’m talking about a soccer team that I coach. I have been a part of their lives for seven years. That’s 14 seasons of soccer since they play in the fall and spring. I would love to do the math and answer how many practices, games, and hours that I have spent with these kids, but I’m too tired right now to crunch numbers. Let’s say I’ve put in a lot of time. And so have they. After all this time, they are not just the team that I coach. They are not just my players. They are my kids.
Okay, back to the game…
The whistle blew and my kids ran around and hugged one another. Suddenly, splashes of water poured down my back and in my face. My first thought was, “They need to drink that water instead of wasting it.” I was afraid they would cramp up because they were running around in the hot sun. But, I went with the celebration.
At the start of the game, I shook the other coach’s hand and high-fived with the opposing team. We wished one another “good luck” and then I regrouped with my team. After pumping them up with excitement and doing my best Vince Lombardi impression, I released the kids to play their game. Playoff games for any age and sport are always emotional and difficult to keep in check. So I was prepared for a heightened game.
The refs started the game and a clash of 6th graders came together. My kids played their hearts out right from the get-go. The refs were letting the kids play, which in soccer means a lot of grabbing, shoving, and forearms. Both teams battled one another. Calls were missed against both teams and calls were made against both teams. The other coach could not control his emotions as he cursed at his players and at the referees. I yelled out instructions at my team and the officials, but without attacks. Parents of the other team yelled at my kids and the refs. Curses flew across the field. My kids continued to play… and play hard. One opposing parent, (I call him angry bald man in blue shirt) could not control himself. He shouted with hatred throughout the game. Another man, (I call him angry man in baseball hat) joined him in his hatred. I challenged my team to not be distracted and continue to play hard. A goal that should have counted for my team was called back. It went through the net and from where the ref stood, he didn’t see it go in. Since the ball went out the back of the net, he ruled against the goal. Actually, it was a goal. A parent has it on video. Anyway, we lined back up in positions and played hard without letting the missed call get to us. Finally, we scored a goal. Another half came and went and the whistle blew three times. We were champions.
After jumping around and after the dousing of water, we walked up to the line to shake the other team’s hands. Half the kids congratulated us and half said nothing. The coach was gracious and offered his congratulations. Some of the assistants shook my hand without saying a word. I turned to head over to where my son was celebrating so we could have a special father/son moment, when I heard shouts from the angry parents. Angry hat man was next to a player that didn’t even play that much and shouted in his ear, “You don’t deserve this!” Stopping in my tracks, I walked over to him. His actions lit a fire inside my stomach and I yelled back, “Don’t talk to my kids, you talk to me!” He stared at me with hateful eyes and yelled again at my kids. I stepped closer knowing I had many little eyes and ears all around and spoke quietly, “If you have something to say, say it to me. Don’t you ever talk to my kids again.” A couple seconds passed before I joined the champions.
After celebrating and handing out trophies and taking pictures, I said goodbye to my kids and congratulated them on a great season. One kid that I have coached since the beginning, but doesn’t play often walked over to me and gave me a hug and said, “I love you Coach Jason.” I bet he would have done that even if we lost.
My kids… That’s who they are. And I love them. And apparently, they love me. I wonder if coaches who swear at their “players” receive and give the same thing. The same goes for the parents on the sidelines.
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