Saturday, March 17, 2007

There Ought to be a Moral in Here Somewhere

Today, of course, is St. Patrick's Day. But apparently I don't have the luck of the Irish, because we spent the day at the soccer fields instead of actually celebrating.

Actually, I enjoy watching my boys play soccer now. They are both old enough to understand the game and yet still have fun playing, which is a great age. They aren't too bogged down by the whole "win at any cost" attitude because we have all decided, thus far, to stick with recreational soccer rather than join the "comp" leagues that are out there, where the focus is on win win win.

Instead, we have a lot of fun. The Owl's team lost today, but only after a very valiant fight. The guys felt good because they all played their best, hustling all over the field, and it was a nail-biter right up to the end, a really close game. Both teams were good sports and shook hands at the end and each left with a healthy respect for their adversary.

And sometimes, though we don't make a huge deal about it, we even win. The Rhino's team won today. As a proud Mom, I was overjoyed when the Rhino scored a goal. But the whole team did well. They are a great team because they work together, and like each other, and it shows in the way they play. There are very few ball-hogs or hot-doggers on the Rhino's team.

In fact, they went undefeated last year, which I especially enjoyed because I am a small, petty person and there is this One Coach I just can't stand to lose to, even though I am, of course, all about the fun! And don't even keep score! Mostly!

This one coach is a Screamer. You know the type I mean. He doesn't just yell out constructive things like, "good shot, Billy!" or, "Nice defense!" He doesn't stop at the automatic "Not in the middle!" reflex every coach has when a defender kicks the ball right back into the center of the field of play, in front of his own goal. Or the slightly frustrated, "Are you listening, Joe?" that really means I-told-you-not-to-do-that-just-a-second-ago-and-look-what-happened.

No, this guy screams all the time. He screams at his team because they didn't do this right or that right even when they are winning. And when they are losing, he just screams louder. And what makes it worse, his kids get so tired of his screaming that, to hang on to their sanity, they start ignoring him, which, naturally, just makes him scream more. It is not fun to watch.

And it's not just that he screams. It's what he screams. Most of the time it's just a little harsher than I would like, because I'm not a yeller myself (unless someone goes after my kid, and then they have to hold me back). Occasionally, he even gives an encouraging remark, after a particularly good goal. But sometimes? It's downright cringe-worthy. You know, the kind of ugly personal criticism that makes the other parents shrivel up inside when they hear it, thinking, "Oh, my goodness, that poor kid."

Now, you might be saying to yourself, why is this guy still coaching, then? And that's a good question. The rec league is made up of volunteers, and they need all the help they can get, because there's never enough coaches. They don't like to get rid of anyone who is willing to help and, besides, they can't really fire anyone that isn't being paid in the first place.

But people can, and still do, request other coaches. In some cases, they specifically ask for any coach other than Screaming Crazy guy.

Most of the volunteer coaches are soccer Dads. The Engineer coached, and when he had to travel more, he switched to assistant coaching, and I'm proud that he is so involved, because it can get pretty stressful, with all the different personalities involved. But a lot of Dads tough it out and coach so they can be there for their sons, even though it means volunteering hours after work for practice and Saturdays out at the fields.

And that's the real reason the Screaming, Crazy coach is still coaching. Because he's a Dad, and his kid plays soccer. And his kid is a good soccer player. And the nicest thing anyone can say about Screaming, Crazy coach, which is also a True, Valid Thing, is that he wants to support his kid.

Which should be great. It should be this big Redeeming Virtue that makes up for it all. His son should go on to be the next David Beckham and Screaming Crazy coach should learn a good lesson from it all somehow and stop screaming forever.

But that's not what's happening. His kid is becoming a crazy screamer, too. And he has an attitude of superiority that makes even the fondest soccer Mom want to wipe the smirk right off of his face. He orders the other kids on his team around. He's a bad sport. He doesn't come and shake the hands of the opposing team, or give high-fives to his own players. He uses language, barely under his breath, that I wouldn't allow the Owl or the Rhino to use, and his father, perhaps deaf from all of his own screaming, never seems to hear it.

And his natural athletic ability has become overshadowed by these ugly personality traits, to the point where, if his Dad didn't coach, even with his skill, this boy would have a hard time finding a coach who would agree to take him on.

That's the real irony: this kid, who could really be a great player, is actually worse now-- because his Dad coaches.

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