You wake up at 7:30am. Your head is pounding. It’s not from the Halloween celebrating the night before, it’s pounding with some screechy Ariana Grande song that hasn’t left your head since your daughter’s carpool days ago. Now it’s Saturday. “Dadurday”. In just three hours you will coach your son’s soccer team to their eighth straight loss, capping a winless season where they were outscored 49 to 1. At least your nine weeks of hell as a volunteer coach will be over.
In bed you hear the pumped-up volume of the TV from the living room. You discover your 7 year-old watching Hocus Pocus. It’s 7:30am and it looks like he’s been binging on his Halloween loot since 6:00am. Wrappers are everywhere. It seems that threat that they should donate half of their candy sure backfired. Perfect. His sugar-high will crash hard right before the start of the longest game of the year. You were hoping, as you did every week, they might taste the sweet delight of victory. Now they will surely only savor dirt, salty tears, and a large serving of whoop-ass handed to them by other 7-year-olds.
Your first priority is making coffee. Looking out the window you see those familiar dark clouds that have loomed over the past five muddy weeks. You’re angry your wife convinced you to coach and every Saturday she’s not there to help with the mad scramble to find cleats, shin-guards, or your positive attitude. However, since she goes to her “boot-camp” on Saturday, you have to support anything that will make a busy working mom look and feel good. Sacrifices, it’s what dads make. If you survive the next wet, cold six hours of all three of your children’s games, you might get a twenty minute nap while watching college football on TV.
You somehow manage to get everyone in their gear and out the door by 8:30am. As you start to drive away, your wife is arriving home. She is smiling and waving and pumped from her boot camp. Yay. You should be happy that one of you feels good. Instead you drive off before the baby of the family, but your soccer warrior today, starts crying for Momma.
You get there on time and none of your six misfits of mud are there. Maybe they gave up before the last week. Heck, it seemed like they gave up from the very first practice. Yet each week you’d see glimpses of determination and skills you tried to incorporate. Every time you were sure they cared more about the dirt mound they sculpted than the game, they knew exactly how many points they were down (usually 8. I don’t know. I stopped counting).
They slowly all arrive. All of them look hung over from Halloween excess. Like every week, you greet them with a high-five and positive energy. The league scheduled a longer game for the last week so the kids could “put it all together.” Right, all of the many facets of soccer they’ve mastered by now. You decide to warm-up practicing shooting. They haven’t scored one goal since the first game when a fluke shot rolled in from mid-field. That is, unless you count all of the scores accidentally made on their own goal. Screw passing and fundamentals! Today they’re going to feel the joy of scoring, which will bring the elusive “W”.
As is usual, none of the kids listen nor do the drill. You hate to yell in front of their parents and your whistle wields no power. Balls are flying everywhere but the goal. Their only interest is in inventing their own drills which you encouraged back in week three. By the time you hear all their intricate drills which involve stacking cones and very little about soccer, it is already time to play the game. Oh, well. Let’s do this!
The other team looks small and beatable. You almost feel sorry for the wrath of scoring your team is about to unleash on them. And two minutes in, you’re down 3 to zip. As has been the case every week, if the other team has one kid with skill, they win. This team has two. Just like in professional sports, two superstars are unstoppable. Your team has two kids who are good at taunting the other team and, well, that’s about it.
It is quickly 8 to 0 early. With kids losing their will on and off the field and still 45 minutes left, you fight the urge to give up or to trip the opposing kid on his way to another goal. The other team’s coach, a high school girl, tries to help you by limiting her two scorers’ time on the field. She tells them to pass rather than score. One of your team’s dads can take no more and scolds their star for celebrating after he scores.
You can sense the other team, either out of generosity or out of boredom, is going to allow some mercy goals. You try everything, so do your players, but that damn ball just won’t go in. Your own son claims he’s injured and pouts on the sidelines. Finally after an hour, someone calls the game. Time of death is 10:31am.
For treats, some nice parent brought donuts. Your players are thrilled and your own son makes a miraculous recovery. They eat their donut while you try to give a post-season pep talk. You tell them how proud you are of them at how much they improved and fought all year. Who knows if they hear you? One of the parents tells them to give a cheer for the coach, “Hip hip…” (silence). Not one “thank you” from the kids. You’re not sure if the parents appreciate you volunteering instead of them, or if they blame you for sucking. You clean up the trash they leave and turn in your equipment avoiding the other coaches who are going off to their pizza parties.
It’s over. You wish there was a happy ending or a moral or even one friggin’ goal at the end of this long tale, but there isn’t. You tried everything over the weeks. You brought in older boys to run drills, solicited parents’ help, listened to other coaches’ unsolicited advice, bribed kids with treats, one parent even offered money for a goal. Most of all, you tried to make it fun and not show that it rarely was.
In the end, the league bullied you into coaching to avoid having your son sit on the couch watching TV every Saturday. Who knows if it was worth it? You know you’ll never do it again. But you said that last time you volunteered to coach too. At least no one got hurt. Not physically.
Who’s up for basketball?!