Those of you who read this blog regularly may know that I’m a volunteer youth soccer coach. Those of you who really know what’s up may know about the team I coached this past season. For those of who you stumbled upon this accidentally you can read this or I can just say I was asked to coach soccer for a group of girls who came from complicated situations and I was scared about coaching them because I felt like I lacked the necessary experience.
However, as with all things so far where I’ve been nervous about my leap of faith; it all turned out ok. Probably as well as it could have gone, in fact.
These girls were… heartbreaking, overwhelming and absolutely astounding all at once and on so many levels. There were days where I felt like I was coaching a prison team or something more drastic: the general hardness about some of the girls, their utter excitement just because they were outside, and the “I can’t be partners with her because we don’t get along” conversations I had at least once a week. Yet at other times it amazed me how normal they were. They were excited about the team t-shirts and they were worried about messing up their hair just like your average high school girl.
They tested my patience and forced me to get creative, to adjust on the fly. Every week I felt only partially prepared. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere or making any kind of a difference. The coordinators of the whole thing showed up unexpectedly at one of the practices and complimented me on my clarity when explaining what we were doing, on how I gradually made a drill harder without having to switch gears too often, which worked especially well for this group. And these are serious, professional coaches who were giving the compliment. They coach all the local premier leagues and they actually make money doing this! It was surprising and exactly the reassurance I needed.
The final week, there was a tournament with all the teams. There were only 4 teams total and 4 games in the tournament, so the winners of the first two games played each other for the “championship” and the “second-place” team in each game played each other in a “consolation” game. A local high school marching band came out; so there was a parade before the tournament, there was food. The band played and the dancers danced between some of the games. The different groups took turns chanting their team names. My team was consistently the loudest.
It was our turn to play our first game. Everything about this tournament was a simplified version of soccer. The field was small, the halves were short, and the referees were the coaches. There were kick-ins instead of throw-ins and there were no goal kicks or corner kicks. It was like they knew we spent the last 6 weeks focusing on the fundamentals and didn’t have time to cover any of the actual rules of soccer. It was like watching high school girls play kindergarten soccer.
I didn’t have high expectations, but maybe I should have. We won our first game 3-0.
The consolation game was only ten minutes, and then it was our turn again for the championship game against the coordinator’s team. They also won their first game by the same shutout score, 3-0. Before the final game there was more chanting, more competition between the teams. Some of my girls were now trying to coach for me, telling me who would start the next game and what their “plan” was. Some of the other girls were nervous – they hadn’t really competed with this kind of “pressure” before.
We won. We beat the coordinator’s team. Again, by a shut out.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a team. The girls got a World Cup replica trophy to keep in their hall/housing unit. Everyone got medals. The chanting continued for several more minutes, some playful taunting added in. They were ecstatic and I wanted to cry.
Now that it’s over, it seems silly how scared I was. All I can think about is finding the next step, the next small leap, the next thing that scares me. One of these days I’ll take the big leap and finally move out of this state. Until then – small leaps of faith.