The soccer coach
There was something palpably different about her the first minute I was around her. Her introductory email with the tagline of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness” was a clue. The first several soccer practices had been cancelled due to weather, but she wanted to meet her 8 and 9 year old girls before coaching them in their first game. We huddled up around her. My daughter, who has heightened stress at the beginnings of new things – school years, athletic teams, vacations – made an immediate connection with her. My own internal worry was eased. Deep in my heart I knew this was going to be a good thing.
Just last season, this same daughter played organized soccer for the very first time. The coach was a kind and compassionate man, but the dynamic between he and his own daughter spilled out onto the rest of the team. Children who have lived through trauma are often hyper vigilant and have an internal radar device that detects even the slightest stress of others. That first practice, it became evident to all that this dad had some big dreams for his daughter, they were being frustrated and no one was the better for it. While my 8 year old could not put this into words, her sensitive spirit knew it nonetheless.
As the mom of five children, many coaches have come and gone, playing a role and impacting our children through many years. Some of them have made lasting positive impressions on our children; most were a mix of positives and negatives. The few that stand out as less than ideal had one thing in common. They were parents who seemed to be trying to live their own dreams and expectations through their children – a very real danger and temptation for every parent.
The last “mom coach” that our family experienced was when our eldest son was in the 5th grade. She was a lovely, kind person off of the field. But coming from a soccer family and having her own, possibly unrealistic, dreams for her child led to a screaming, almost fanatical sideline display during each game. One wise dad turned to me during a game and said, “someone needs to videotape this and show her what she looks like”. I imagine she had no idea. Sensitive male spirits were damaged. Another story is a “dad coach” of our youngest son during his middle school basketball playing years. This coach seemed blind to most of the other boys’ talents, contributions and sensitivities because of a focus on the hope and dream of having a son who could take it to the next level. Playing times and offensive roles were skewed, and winning became all-important. Yes, his son does currently play for a top NCAA team, but I am pretty sure that this would have happened even if his son had more fully shared “the limelight” during the middle school years. We parents can get so far off track trying to live through our children or setting up dreams of our own on their behalf. I know I have been guilty of this.
So, what was so different about this particular soccer coach? She had introduced herself by email and now in person. She clearly loved the game and had played in college. Confidently with just the right amount of pride, she talked about her three children – the oldest a member of the team. Genuine connection with each 3rd grade girl in the little huddle was made – each team member was addressed, heard and made to feel important. All girls are respected and given the chance to play all positions – her daughter included -but not favored or pressured in any way. The girls are learning to be better soccer players with each and every practice and game. Encouragement is valued ahead of winning. Being a new team amongst established teams has led to 0 wins but it feels like the hard work and excellent coaching will soon pay off for those with a competitive spirit. When and if the win does happen, we will all rejoice together. Life lessons are being learned.
I did not get a critical piece of the answer to this question until the 6th game of the season. It was “silent Saturday” when all parents were asked to be quiet during the game (another great learning experience!). This silence led me to be more attentive to the world around me. I noticed a beautiful little girl playing close to me. She had been born with Down’s syndrome, and her joy for life was captivating. At the end of the game, she ran up to her mom – our mom coach – and gave her a big hug. Aha. This coach/mom/human being knows much about life partly because of the gift of her daughter, a journey that I imagine has been both a grief and a gift. I certainly am grateful that our daughter -who just this morning happily bounded out of bed, threw on her soccer practice uniform and gathered her gear anticipating practice after a 2 week hiatus – has crossed paths with this woman. She is making a big difference in the world.
Facebook and smart phone update: I hope that as I write, you feel my sincere belief that I am a fellow journeyer and struggler in this life. I recently smiled when a friend told me she was “afraid” to “like” a facebook post of mine after reading “on a like strike”. My strike is over – I still try to be mindful and use it infrequently, but the like button I have pushed.
And on the smart phone addiction battle: I removed facebook from my phone. Email is still there, for now. We’ll see how compulsive I get about it. I check facebook once or twice a day from the desk top computer. When I get into the car, I tried throwing the phone into the glove compartment – it was a hassle to get it out of there. I have a little “garage” area at the front of our van – I throw it in there and close the door. I still mentally go to grab it at stop lights, but haven’t so far. I make and take occasional phone calls while driving. Next step if the old habits creep back in – put it in the trunk area. Thanks for journeying with me!