The Soccer report

The lovely Weaselette is playing soccer again this summer. Since I am coaching she got to name the team, and consequently they are the Flaming Orange Eagles [1].

The Flaming Orange Eagles today faced the evil “Lime Green” team (proper name unknown). As game time approached I became increasingly nervous: only four kids had shown up (and there are six on the field at a time, five players and a goalie) while the Lime Greens seemed to have a rapidly growing horde of children. Just as the ref blew the whistle to start the game and I was glumly walking over to ask to the other coach to borrow players (which never, ever works out well, but was the only way I’d have a full side to field) C. and J., a pair of siblings, arrived eager and panting. So we were spared the indignity of borrowing players, but now the six present Flaming Orange Eagles had no substitutes at all.

The six we had were C., a gangly tomboy of a girl, always grinning, a pure dynamo of soccer awesome; J., her brother, the tallest kid on the team, all skinny long legs, good natured but quick to tire; K., a little blonde doll of a girl, cuter than a basket full of kittens but so shy that I have yet to hear a word from her in three weeks and a proper daisy picker, apparently unaware that the game involves a ball; E., a small, quick blonde boy with wide eyes who listens very earnestly to everything I say and then does the opposite with a look of studious concentration; S., a little dark-haired lad, reasonably skilled but small and short on attention span; and the lovely Weaselette.

Weaselette was the only volunteer for goalie, so in she went. C., K. and S. were sent forward on offense, and J. and E. were our defense. I got them all pointed in the right direction and it was game time.

The evil Lime Green quickly swarmed us. The first several minutes were a tangle of limbs, mostly in front of our goal, and the lovely Weaselette was called on to make several saves. J. was doing yeoman’s work on defense and C., a hurricane of energy as always, was providing our only offensive efforts. But still the Lime Green kept coming, relentless pressure and our kids with no chance to rest. The result seemed inevitable.

It seemed the thing we needed most was someone forward to help out C. So I grabbed young E. during a throw in and told him to go forward and help. That left J. as the sole defender and as soon as I had a chance I told him so, that the whole of the defense was on his shoulders. He looked at me appalled. “But I’m already tired!” he said.

“You can do it,” I told him, “take it easy, just cover the middle and save your energy. You can handle it just fine.”

And blessed be, he did as he was told. It’s such a delight coaching an age-group up! Last year with 4-5 year olds you might as well try to teach your cat Japanese as coach them; but with the 6-7 year olds there’s at least a hope they’ll listen, and J. rewarded my hope with a fine smart bit of defense. With some help for C. the Flaming Orange Eagles finally presented a credible offensive threat and the game began to be played more in their end than ours, a refreshing break for the goalie and the nerves of the parents.

Half time came, and I ordered the lot of them to plop down and relax. They complied eagerly, sprawling extravagantly over the field, telling each other excitedly just how tired they were.

I spoke with C. privately for a moment: “I saw you out there telling the others what to do. That’s great! As you get older, there won’t be coaches on the field to help you; you have to manage yourselves. Keep it up!” How her face lit up! “It’s really OK?” she said, “I kinda stopped because I thought it was rude…”. “No way!” I assured her, “it’s not rude, it’s taking charge! You’re being the captain and you’re smart, you’re telling the others smart things they haven’t figured out for themselves. Keep it up!”

She rushed off to share this news with her dad, thrilled to bits. I could only hope that she wouldn’t turn into a little Napoleon given a taste of authority.

To J. I said, “Good job! See? You can do it!” and he sighed and rolled his eyes at me.

And so to the second half, the game still a 0-0 tie. J., for all his sighing, continued playing smart defense, and C. and E. provided a steady stream of offensive chances. The game flowed [2] back and forth with neither side clearly favored until finally, with about five minutes left, little S. made a good pass to C. who got behind the Lime Green defense, dribbled the length of the field, took the shot! Save! Rebound! Shot! Save! Rebound! And by now the defenders has caught up so it was a muddle of bodies in front of goal, but their goalie was down and C. simply forced the ball over the line with brute force and grit. It was more like a rugby try than a pretty bit of soccer, but it was the loveliest thing I’d seen all day and all we Flaming Orange Eagle parents cheered fit to bust an ear.

With only a little time left and fresh legs the Lime Green attacked frantically. Both J. and Weaselette were hard pressed, repeatedly turning the ball away. But the play was all in front of our net and how I wanted that ref to blow his whistle and end the thing! But he was a proper laggard, apparently determined to stretch the game as long as possible. Finally, several minutes after the game was done according to my watch, I heard him call to the linesman, “Next out is the end…”

And of course the stupid ball simply would not go out of play. It was several more nerve-wracking minutes before J. finally hoofed the ball out over the sideline and that was it, a glorious 1-0 victory for the Flaming Orange Eagles.

I was proud of the kids and it was pretty clear from their grins as we cheered the other team and shook hands that they were happy and proud too. Even J. mustered a smile.

I didn’t play a lot of team sports as a kid myself, didn’t much enjoy those I did, and don’t feel worse for it. I’m always suspicious of people who seem to think that sports represent some vital life experience. But seeing J. shoulder the heavy burden of solo defense and triumph; seeing C. step up and start leading her team; even seeing little K. manage to stay out and stay involved for the whole game without having to run back to her dad for reassurance, I couldn’t help but feel that this was an especially good day for those kids. I think they all went home just a little taller than they came. And I know for sure that both the lovely Weaselette and I went home happy. We sure won.

[1] this name rather tickled the fabulously gay couple among the parents; they promised to dress up as mascots but alas, have yet to deliver.

[2] well, as much as kiddie soccer ever ‘flows’; it’s a rather clumpy, awkard flowing at best.

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