Some would call it destiny. And still others, fate.
Everyone would agree it was a group email.
Cooper’s soccer coaches would be unable to come to the final game of the season, so there was a big need to have someone take their place for the season finale.
A minute and “sent email” later, I would make my coaching debut in a week. The team affectionately known as the Green Dragons would have a new one-game coach.
Coaching a group of four- and five-year-olds promised to be a unique challenge. From the sidelines that season, players (from my team and opponents alike) showcased a number of very niche skills for me to consider:
The boy who, after tripping near the net, decided to stay on the ground and crawl into it. I can only imagine it was to explore what a tuna felt like prior to the canning process.
The girl who walked around not only picking the various flowers that sprouted on the field, but began to take orders from other players, parents and referees for exactly what type of flower she could pick from them. It may well be the beginning of her career as a used car salesperson (“What can I do to put you into this nice yellow dandelion today?”)
The player who decided to sprint from the sidelines and boot the ball a mile down the field. NOTE: He was actually participating in a game about three fields over, but decided he was advanced enough to try and score for three teams at once. Some people are bound by rules. Not him. Not today.
Snack time is the most rehearsed, plotted, anticipated moment of every week. My boss, whose son played in the league a year prior, told me all snack times were placed at the end of the day, as it was the crowning achievement of participating in a soccer league.
I had big shoes to fill.
Cooper’s regular coaches were incredibly likable among the players and parents alike. A few faces even dropped when they mentioned missing the finale. So I made it my mission to try and impress those children with my coaching skills. I paid careful attention to the many warmup drills the kids enjoyed doing, tried to memorize names the best I could and commit anything deemed cool to memory.
Cool is hard for me. I needed plenty of help.
Since I am wired to think of everything sports, I first started to brainstorm some ideas for how I could make this practice/game (the first half of the hour is practice time, the second half a game) the best thing that ever happened in their young lives.
Wow, did I have ideas. This is the “short” list of thoughts I had preparing for the game…
Arrive in a suit and tie to reinforce the fact that I was taking this game ultra-serious
Stalk the sidelines like in Gene Hackman’s portrayal of coach Norman Dale from Hoosiers. Perhaps I would use a key drill to unlock their full athletic potential and require each kid to pass four times before shooting.
Running through a team banner is a great way to enter the game together. How many of the kids would run through and how many to the sidelines to beg their parents for one last pre-game snack?
Perhaps a pre-game video put together as if it were one of those classic NFL Films pieces that double as a battle cry. You know, the ones narrated by the booming and inspiring voice of John Facenda like the one about the Oakland Raiders…
“The Autumn Wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea,
With a rollicking song, he sweeps along,
In short, I overthought everything.
So, instead, I acted on the one smart idea bouncing inside my brain: ask a coach.
My dad has coached basketball and track and field, and as a physical education teacher, informally coached about 100 other sports or sports-like activities.
I asked him about any tips coach-to-coach he could give me. I asked as if I was half-serious about wanting sage advice, but I’m pretty sure he saw right through that.
“Have fun. All of you.”
When the kids gathered, we talked. We ran. We did silly warm-up drills. We played and we finished with snacks.
Yes, did the Green Dragons ever finish with snacks.
The kids slowly warmed up to my presence, not because of all the pomp and circumstance I thought might bring some level of awesomeness to the pitch, but because we were running side-by-side trying to have fun.
We had fun. All of us.
But the real reward for coaching came on the walk back to the car.
I asked Cooper if he had fun. He did. We talked about playing next season.
“Only if you’re the coach, dad.”
You can take your four passes Coach Dale and go home. I unlocked whatever it is that mattered to me.
To all youth coaches out there who commit yourselves to giving kids these opportunities, thank you. If you’ve never coached before, volunteer. Try it. I stalked the sidelines for a single hour and saw just how rewarding it can be.
I did it without having to get crazy with ideas. And it’s too bad for that, my battle cry was going to be epic.
Since it would be a waste to bury the song forever, here you go Green Dragons, a tribute to you for allowing me a coaching debut…
“The springtime is a Green Dragon
Stopping opponents in their tracks.
Fun was had by Cooper’s dad
More than any post-game snacks.”
Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.