I donned my baggy, blue American Youth Soccer Organization coach shirt 11 weeks ago. Since then, I’ve spent every Thursday night and Saturday morning surrounded by eight and nine-year-old boys.
My transition from player to coach was daunting. Since I was four, I have spent every weekend receiving directions, learning how to dribble, then how to pass, then how to shoot, then how to add a few fancy tricks to my repertoire. After a dozen years, student became teacher. The role reversal was tricky, and at first, the shoe didn’t fit.
At Blue Lightning’s first practice, I attempted to engage the kids in a simple dribbling drill. The soccer balls went flying, and after a wavering minute, I had lost the attention of all players. In desperation, I transitioned to a game of World Cup and assigned the boys to Italy, Germany, and China. The players ran and shot and argued endlessly about the score. After 60 minutes, I reached an awfully remedial epiphany: some drills worked better than others.
Fast forward ten weeks later, and I gained another understanding. Success did not come the way I expected: there was no game where every member made cohesive passes leading to a fantastic goal; my vision of a confetti-filled victory did not match our ending placement of 17th out of 26 teams. Victory can be elusive.
But success did present itself in less tangible ways. The shocked smile on Joey’s face when he made his first save as goalie. Luc’s tug on my shirt, telling me he thought our team was awesome, even if the score suggested otherwise. Ethan’s pride after his somewhat effective defensive trick: he laid on his ball until the other players got bored and wandered away.
Even though I stood in a position of authority, I learned plenty as the season progressed. I discovered that eight-year-olds are incredibly squirrely and require constant direction, otherwise they will soon revert to kicking each other or staging an impromptu “whipping” contest. I learned that they are in the habit of constantly daring teammates to eat dirt or knock away someone else’s ball. I learned that they crave attention as one player fell down “injured” 11 times in a single practice. I learned that a tiny boy can inhale a huge burger in less than 20 seconds if his teammates chant “Man versus food! Man versus food!”
I also learned about myself. It’s laughable that I cared so deeply when one group of kids wearing blue and black weren’t outscored by another group of kids wearing yellow and green. I learned that I’m pretty good at dodging questions, especially ones along the lines of “Coach Faye, how old is the Queen of England?” or, “Coach Faye, when is Christmas?”
My flip into the position of coach from player was tricky. 16 years spent receiving directions, not giving them, did little to prepare me for the chaos that is pre-teen boys. I’ve had a fleeting peek into the “adult” world, and while it takes me far longer than half a minute to eat a hamburger, I’ll be sitting at the kids’ table when I finally do finish it.