Let me say up front that I’ve never coached a team at any level before, and don’t pretend to have any particular skills or knowledge in that area. All I know is that my daughter’s recreational league needed someone to coach, I volunteered, and managed to get the team through the season almost undefeated.
In fact, we were undefeated until yesterday. But nobody expected our team to win that last game, so in that sense I still consider the season a remarkable success.
Readers of my original Male Pattern Fitness blog may remember this entry, about one of my daughter’s soccer games two years ago.
Here’s a quick recap of the part that’s relevant to this post:
My daughter [Meredith] is probably the youngest player in the league (her birthday was just on the wrong side of the cutoff), which means the median player is a year older and some are nearly two years older. She’s also short for her age, which is exacerbated by the age gap. But she doesn’t care. She plays hard, particularly on defense.
So, in the third quarter, [Meredith] was playing defense on the same side of the field as the [gigantic daughter of the other team’s coach, who had been scoring at will and running up the score on my daughter’s team]. And, as is her custom, she was going right after the big girl, stopping her cold every time she put a foot on the ball. The other team ran the offense through their giant, so when Meredith tied her up, she in effect stopped their entire team.
After a few minutes of this, Meredith fell to the ground, holding her face. Play stopped, and I sprinted out onto the field. Meredith was sobbing, holding her nose. It wasn’t bleeding, but I’m sure everyone reading this knows what it feels like to get whacked right on the bridge, which is apparently what happened.
My daughter doesn’t normally take things that happen on the field personally. But in this case she was livid. Madame Maxime, she said, had elbowed her, and she’d done it on purpose.
After I wrote that post, and after my daughter’s team went up against that team again in the spring season, I realize Meredith was telling the truth. The other coach’s daughter is not only the biggest player in the league, she’s also the dirtiest. I don’t use that term lightly when I’m talking about an 11- or 12-year-old girl. I mean she shoves, kicks, and elbows opponents to gain an advantage.
So that brings me back to yesterday’s game, the last of the season, against the monster team.
Our girls hadn’t played for three weeks because of rain and a bye week, and we hadn’t practiced all month because of the time change (it gets dark too early to hold practices).
It sounds like I’m making excuses, but I’m really not. Despite three weeks without soccer, our girls outplayed the monsters for the first half. We really had them rattled — one girl on their team was scream-grunting like Maria Sharapova, and the coach’s Ivan Drago-like daughter was shoving and leg-whipping our girls all over the field.
(Some of the fouls were so blatant that the teenaged referee, who looked like she hadn’t gotten much sleep in recent nights, shook herself out of her lethargy long enough to call some of the most flagrant penalties.)
Unfortunately, we ran out of gas after halftime. I should add that it was about 33 degrees at game time, with a really sharp and relentless wind. Our girls couldn’t keep up the intensity, and were seriously outplayed in the second half.
But for all that, the final score was 2-1, and the girls who were on the field for the game-untying goal said the ball was in our goalie’s hands when a girl on the other team kicked it in. That’s against the rules, but since the other coach doesn’t care about rules, it doesn’t really matter. If the ref had overruled that goal, his players would’ve gotten nastier, and one or more of my players might’ve gotten hurt. (Earlier in the game one of them had kicked our goalie in the thigh, the kind of play you don’t really see in girls’ rec-league soccer.)
As the man said, let the Wookiee win.
So that ended our undefeated season, but I don’t think any of the kids or parents really cared. Everyone had fun, everyone improved their soccer skills, and no one got hurt. And despite having a first-time coach, we didn’t really have any close games before this one. (One game ended in a 1-1 tie, but it was called after one quarter because of a monsoon-like rainstorm. We’d beaten that team by several goals earlier in the season.) One of my proudest achievements as a coach is that we never rolled up the score on weaker teams, and we never hurt any opposing players.
After the game, after the obligatory handshakes, the other team got off the field as fast as they could pack their packs. Our team stayed around, cheering for each other as I handed out trophies I’d bought for the girls.
I’m not one to claim moral victories, but I’m pretty sure we were the happiest team on the field that day. And that’s something I hope the players never forget. I’m pretty sure I won’t.