Spring soccer season: The ‘Sons’ ride again
April 6, the Sons of Anarchy will ride again.
No, not the FX television series, which doesn’t start back up until fall, if memory serves. I’m talking about the spring season of Blount County Parks and Rec league soccer, coached by the Wildsmith brothers. After an undefeated first season and a 5-2 fall season, we’re moving up to the big leagues: ages 7-9.
Regulation-size field and teams. Eleven players on the field at a time. Goalkeepers. Red cards (hopefully not for us coaches). Offside calls. All of the rules that make soccer such a complex sport. I knew them all at one time when I played and refereed, but that was more than a quarter-century ago.
Because of that, I entered into the whole coaching thing last spring on a lark. I’d signed my son, Ezra, up after he enjoyed Parks and Rec basketball during the winter; when they asked if I was interested in coaching, I called up my brother. He agreed to help, and so we were in business.
Of course, those who know us well were either perplexed or dumbfounded. One friend asked if they had waived the “no profanity” clause. (They have not, but I can control my colorful outbursts, thank you.) Another asked what we knew about coaching kids whose collective attention spans rival that of a school of goldfish. Not much, as it turned out, but we held our own.
More importantly, both Mike and I had fun. Ezra had fun. All of the players seemed to have fun, and to learn a few things as well — and the parents weren’t too horrified by our coaching style, it seemed. A few of them requested the Wildsmith brothers again when last fall’s season came around. Heck, they never even protested when I started referring to the team as the Sons of Anarchy, pulling rank on all of the suggestions from the players for the team’s name; they couldn’t come to a consensus, and since they were all someone’s son, and it was anarchy on the field when they played, it fit. (Plus, I get to wear my Sons of Anarchy T-shirt to every game.)
Ezra turned 7 last October, which means he moved up to the next age level. Once again, I’ve agreed to coach. And once again, Mike has agreed to coach as well. As it turns out, we’re not too bad at it — probably because when we’re around each other, we revert back to rowdy kids ourselves. I think we managed to avoid most of the pranks and insults that make our mother shake her head in a mixture of amusement and annoyance, but we were able to make it fun for the kids.
And really, that’s what it’s all about. I readily admit to being competitive — more so than I first realized. Once the game starts and the first goal is scored, I want us to win, and it’s difficult not to turn into that bellowing, berating coach who seems like he’s showing off for professional scouts. I don’t want to be that guy — not as a parent, and certainly not as a coach.
Our motto was three-fold, and it’ll continue to be: “Have fun. Be good sports. And don’t use your hands.”
In the younger league, the focus is almost entirely on fundamentals, and once play starts, most of those go out the window. It becomes something called “amoeba ball,” meaning every kid on the field clusters around the soccer ball like microscopic organisms, everyone kicking and flailing at once until the ball pops loose (usually rolling between the legs of the one or two kids who hang back, content to pick weeds or throw dirt at one another).
Although we tied a couple of games that first season, we didn’t lose one, so when Mike and I faced our first loss last fall, it was a rough blow for all of about 10 minutes. The kids, however, taught me a lesson: They shrugged their shoulders and wanted to know who brought the snacks.
Life doesn’t always have to be a contest, and as they get older, I’m sure they’ll figure out that much of what passes for competition in this world is defined by winners and losers. Yeah, the whole “what matters is how you play the game” is a great mantra, but around here where high school football championships are expected and Big Orange fans are ready to write off the season and look ahead to the next after Tennessee loses to Florida, it’s a little like a Buddhist monk paying a visit to The Ball Gentlemen’s Club down Alcoa Highway: It’s just a little out of place.
This season, the kids are older, and more than a few have experience in this league. They, and their parents, are probably use to a more professional atmosphere than Mike and I brought to the past two seasons, which means we’ll need to step up and give it our best. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hold our own and win a few games — and more importantly, make sure all of the players (and parents) understand that having fun comes first. Yes, we want to teach them a few things; and yes, we want to win. But we both want to go to every practice and game and enjoy ourselves, and we want the kids we coach to do the same.
Far too often, fun gets taken out of the equation when it comes to youth sports. I cringe every time I hear a screaming parent berate the referee or, even worse, excoriate his own child in front of teammates and spectators. It’s uncalled for, and it’s counter to everything playing ball as a kid is supposed to be about: Having fun.
Without that, why even play the game? I’d rather lose every single match and enjoy what we’re doing than win all of them but having to act like Field Marshal Rommel to do so.
So mount up, Sons. Let’s take a ride. I don’t know where the road will take us, but I guarantee you this: It’ll be a heckuva lot of fun getting there.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.