Saying so long to another season of soccer
The Sons of Anarchy season is drawing to a close.
Not the television show; the FX series won’t wrap its current run until December, I believe. I’m talking about the 5- and 6-year-old soccer team my brother and I coach. After answering the call for coaches from the Blount County Parks and Rec Department in the spring and coming away with an undefeated season, we agreed to do it again this fall, and Saturday is our last game.
The team name was my idea, after our young charges failed to come to a consensus last season on a moniker to match our jersey color. We were green last season; this fall, we’ve worn blue jerseys, and after a number of completely innocent suggestions on their part (and juvenile snickers from my brother and I — after all, when a 6-year-old insists that the “Blue Balls” is a perfect team name, what else can you do?), I pulled rank and went with SoA.
They are, after all, the sons of dutiful and supportive parents. And when they take the field, it’s anarchy.
I’ve learned a lot of things coaching this age group, but that’s one thing I knew going in: It’s the game soccer, but it might as well be called “amoeba ball.” Wherever the ball is, every player on the field, regardless of team, converges on that single point. It’s like watching white blood cells swarm an infection under a microscope. All you can really do at this age is do your best to teach some fundamentals. We have a three-part mantra we rehearse with the boys before every game.
Don’t use your hands. Have fun. Be good sports. They know it by heart, and when they chant it back to us, I can’t help but beam with pride.
I want them to have fun, to come away from each game exhilarated and excited. I want them to help up one another and the members of the opposing team when the inevitable collision occurs and both players go tumbling to the ground. I want them to shake hands and realize that as long as they try their best, they have no reason to feel dejected with a loss.
But I’ll be the first to admit: Winning feels good. So far, we’re 5-1 this season, and I blame our sole loss on the late summer heat. I hope I’m not jinxing our chances this coming weekend, but I feel pretty confident we’ve only gotten better in the weeks since that game, and we have a good shot of finishing the season with a 6-1 record.
But even if we don’t, it’ll still be a winning season — in more ways than just the written record.
My brother and I have grown attached to these boys, and if we return to coach in the spring, we’ll be moving up along with my son, who celebrated his seventh birthday last Saturday. Many of the kids we coach will remain in this league for another season, and we’ll no doubt miss their enthusiasm, their personalities and their quirky, amusing and occasionally annoying little habits.
(Another thing I’ve learned: little boys defy the laws of nature when it comes to the amount of gas their bodies can store. And they delight in sharing it with their teammates and their coaches in great cannon blasts that sound like Union cannons firing the first shots on Fort Sumter. It’s a bizarre and baffling thing, how small bodies that weigh 50 pounds, if that, can hold so much flatulence.)
There will be new names to learn, new lessons to impart, new skills to teach. We’ve enjoyed our time in the league so much that we’ve about decided to continue doing this until Ezra is too old to play, or until we consistently get beaten by teams with coaches far above our skill level.
That’ll be a disappointing day, because right now, taking time out on Mondays and Saturdays to coach these kids has been the best stress relief either of us could have. There’s just something about the innocence of children that puts into perspective whatever seriousness my brother and I try to bring to the table. You can’t help but chuckle when in the middle of explaining the need for not bunching up and passing the ball to one another, one of them raises a hand to proudly announce the destination of the next day’s school field trip or the latest video game accomplishment.
I have no doubt most of them couldn’t tell you what our record is, or what the score of the last game was, or how badly we were beaten in our single loss. They don’t taunt the other players, they don’t cry when they lose, they don’t throw temper tantrums when they have to sit out a quarter or run a lap.
They’re truly playing for the right reason — to have fun. Yes, that fun may mean chasing one another around the backfield while the ball is in play or stuffing grass down one another’s shirts, and Coach Steve and Coach Mike may spend a lot of time yelling, “BLUE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” But it’s the embodiment of everything we want them to experience at this age: playing for the simple love of the game.
There will be time enough for all the rest of it, and I hope Mike and I are around to see it. For now, just being a part of it, and experiencing it with my son (who affectionately refers to me as “coach” instead of “dad” during practice and the games) on the roster ... that makes the experience all the sweeter.
So here’s to a fine season, you Sons of Anarchy. Thank you, for what you’ve taught me. It’s been an honor, and I hope you never forget the simple joys of the game.
Long may you ride.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.