When my wife suggested that we coach an under-four YMCA soccer team; I felt a deep internal groan bellow throughout my being.
I had questions. I uncovered that my wife’s best friend had sent out feelers for coaches. I guess finding a fearless leader for four year olds was a difficult task.
Another piece of this puzzle was that my wife was a shade over three months pregnant with our first child. This was supposed to be a selling point to prepare ourselves for endeavors to follow.
She wanted me to coach a team of wildling children who may or may not be interested in the sport of soccer. I played soccer when I was a young boy, and at some point mentioned this to my attentive wife. Her maternal instinct mixed with the fact that I knew the basic rules of a sport equaled a signed, sealed and delivered proposal.
I will admit that I didn’t want to lose my precious Saturday morning. But the fact that practice and games wouldn’t start until 9AM reassured me that my quiet coffee time wouldn’t be interrupted. The entire ordeal would only last ten weeks. The time commitment started to lose its argumentative appeal.
My next concern was that I hadn’t coached in any capacity, organized or not. I also hadn’t played soccer in nearly 15 years, save for that one afternoon in college, if that counts.
My last wall of defense had to do with the four-year-old children I’d be coaching. Please understand: I love kids. I have four nieces and two nephews whom I adore.
What made me pause was that I’d never spent time around other people’s children, trying to teach or explain something. Although I was expecting a baby boy, starting this coaching job felt like diving into the deep end of the experience.
Nevertheless, I decided to buy the ticket, take the ride. I would be the head coach of the “Autobots” and my wife would serve as my assistant. Her area of expertise included consoling any player that started crying unexplainably.
Everything changed after our first practice. The excitement radiating from my squad of six “little kickers” was enough to make even the most pessimistic coach melt.
The only thing they had in common was their small stature. Their personalities differed as much as the color of soccer ball they had brought. Some were serious, while others looked as though they couldn’t feel a hardship in the world.
I remembered my days as a child looking forward to Saturday morning soccer. I started to see the kids I was coaching from that perspective, and I was determined if only one thing was accomplished, it would be that they had fun.
It wasn’t long before the realization set in: the age of my players would dictate what we could concentrate on. My game plan evolved into, “How I can keep these guys motivated and moving?”
As the weeks progressed, I saw players come out of their shells and show immense improvement. I had heard that coaching this age was like watching a swarm of bees floating through the field, following a size-three soccer ball. I concur.
Sports often serves as the catalyst for a child to shift into another gear. Without warning or precursor, watching butterflies one week turns into scoring goals the next. I had such pleasure watching each one of my players progress in their due time.
And the horror stories often associated with kid’s sports teams had no truth in my observation. One variable that I had no control over was the support of my players’ parents. Not a single menacing glare or stern word was shared between me and a parent over the short 10 weeks. This was a luxury I knew wasn’t afforded to all coaches.
For one hour a week, I was able to glimpse the happiness that accompanied my players as they ran as fast as they could and kicked with all their might. We often ask ourselves in hindsight if we would do something over again…without hesitation I would raise my hand.
Before I know it, my son will be four years old. If he’s inclined to play, I will proudly volunteer to be his coach. I’ll have the same goal in the future as I had this year: to ensure he has fun and creates lasting memories.
Next time life presents me with option of exploring the unknown I’ll ask myself: What would the “Autobots” do?
I’m fairly certain, they would charge into the unknown and take the risk of trying something. I’m so glad I did.
Jim Jackson is a freelance writer from Kentucky. He writes a weekly column based on his observations and varied interest. You can read more of his work here.
Photo: Jarl Berg