Friday, March 19, 2010

Coaching tweens: one man's struggle

I can't really get a read on these people.

They're referred to as "tweens," but they're actually a compilation of almost every year of their lives from zero to ten.

I've signed on, yet again, to coach kids' indoor soccer. This time, it's a gaggle of eight- and nine-year-old girls, including my daughter. We practice every Thursday night in an archaic, dusty elementary school gym, where the parent-spectators hug the sides and try not to get nailed with an errant line drive to the chest.

We are the Blue Fire. I guess that's a good team name, since it implies scorching hot play, so hot that it's...blue? My teenage daughter is the assistant coach, and it's a good thing, because she handles the warm-up exercises and plays good cop to my impatient, old school bad cop. Every practice, she assembles the kids into a circle for stretching, but before long, about half the players are just sitting, cross-legged, chatting. Here's an example:

Teenage assistant coach: "So...how was everyone's day at school?"

Player #1: "It was good. I got in trouble yesterday. It was my fault, but it wasn't my fault. You know what I mean?"

Teenage assistant coach: "Oh, yeah. I know what you mean."

Player #2: "I got in trouble, too."

Player #3: "I got in trouble, too."

I watched the girls as they sat and talked. It seems like girls this age are just a bit off in their appearance. They're all really cute and bubbly, but their hair always seems a little stringy and oily; their shoes aren't usually tied all the way.

A few of them wore their shin guards on the outsides of their socks, and it reminded me of a kid I knew in seventh grade. On the first day of gym class, each boy was issued a shirt, shorts and an athletic supporter (jock strap). This poor kid walked out of the locker room wearing his jock outside of his shorts. Luckily for these girls on my soccer team, they will never be stigmatized for wearing their shin guards over their socks they way that poor kid in gym was. His name was Chuck.

We always try different drills for the first half of practice, like dribbling, passing and shooting at the goal. Again, half the girls usually pay attention, while the other half try strange things with their soccer balls. As I demonstrated how to properly trap a soccer ball, one girl decided to stand on hers with both feet. Naturally, she fell, landing hard enough on her side to break the hip of your average eighty-year-old.

"You guys. Please don't stand on your ball," I said. "See what happens? It's really dangerous."

Another kid stood on her ball and wiped out hard. Then another one.

"Okay, let's start our scrimmage early."

I really do love this team, an I try to be patient with them. They attend school all day, where things are segmented and structured, so soccer practice is a great opportunity to blow off some steam. Plus, this is a YMCA, free-to-be-you-and-me activity, not the ultra-select, premier, all-star platinum soccer league.

But next time one of those kids stands on a ball, we'll see how well a nine-year-old can do push-ups.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks. Holly's in the backyard with Andy, trying to stand on her soccer ball. I'm pretty sure Andy is, too.

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