Coach’s Update

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.

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And there goes another season

I was worried about this past season. I now realize I had no need to be, and I’m going to miss these boys.

At the start of the season I had 15 players. Now I have 15 more little brothers. I practiced patience, gained a stronger voice, and learned I have a sense of humor very similar to that of a 12-year-old boy.

No one made any comments about girls not being good at sports, or my ability to coach because I’m female. Many of them are following the world cup just as closely and I am. For all of this I am relieved, proud, and impressed with the future children of the universe.

Even the parents were amazing! I am incredibly grateful I had great players and great parents, and I’m going to miss the little boogers. I loved the girls I coached the season before, don’t get me wrong. But considering how worried I was, and considering how well the season went…I’m really sad to see them go. Having a full team like this is incredible, and seeing the leaps and bounds they all made was so rewarding.

Next week, however, I’m about to start a whole new kind of scary coaching situation.

I will be part of a group of coaches who will be teaching middle and high school girls about soccer. These girls come from foster homes, abusive homes, and drug-using homes. Some of them are victims of human trafficking. Some of them have mental health issues, some lack motor skills, and some are dealing with anger problems. This is something I truly feel ill-equipped for, to put it lightly. I have very limited experience with these issues; even less experience with how to coach someone with these types of issues. Like learning any new skill, soccer can be frustrating in the beginning. I’m barely able to deal with a frustrated 12-year-old, let alone a 16-year-old trafficking victim with a history of anger issues.

The good news is I have help. Both the counselors at the shelter and a few experienced soccer coaches will be at practices. So, I can’t cause too much damage.

I am unbelievably honored to be a part of this; I am honored to have a chance at improving someone’s quality of life, even in some small way. Letting someone know it’s ok to try something new, to be a part of a team, is a tough thing. Teaching someone that it’s okay to fail – especially when I’m still learning how to do that myself – is going to be a challenge.

This is a thing that scares me, and I’m just going to dive in head first. What other way is there?

Should I Be Worried?

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Last season, when I was getting my soccer bag ready for the first day of practice, I tried to think of everything I might possibly need. Besides the balls and cones I was given, I also packed any extra pairs of shin guards I had and an air pump. I even bought a whistle. I added my first aid kit from my car, because kids are clumsy. I was coaching girls, so I also added lots of extra hair ties and pre-wrap (even though most are too young to even care if their hair is up or down when they play… I have no idea how anyone does anything with their hair down).

This year, I’m doing the same thing. Equipment is all laid out. But since I’m coaching boys (15 of them, all aged roughly 10-12 years old) instead of girls this year, I’m not going to pack the hair ties.

I’m going to be honest – I’m really worried about coaching boys this time.

I wasn’t too concerned at first, in fact I was even excited to be a positive female role model! I was excited that the boys play with more players on the field, so the game might be more similar to what I’m used to. I was excited about returning to the soccer pitch, in general, in whatever capacity.

But then, people got in the way of my excitement:

  • My mother made the comment, “at that age, some of them might have a crush on you.”
  • Playing trivia with a few guys I just met, they made comments like “The girl got one right!” or, “You like sports? Girls never like sports. Why do you like sports?”
  • “You don’t think the dads will think that’s weird?”
  • “Huh, well I hope you can handle it all by yourself!”

I know these boys I’m coaching are going to make their own comments. I know they aren’t old enough to understand what they’re saying. Hell, even when I coached girls they made comments that were painful, but for different reasons. Many of them wouldn’t do proper push-ups, because “girls are weaker than boys”. Which, I struggle with that even though biologically it might be true – but at their age, it’s not true at all. At 10-12 years old, girls have started hitting the growth spurts that boys won’t see for another 3-4 years. Even if the boys were/are stronger/faster/taller – you’re going to just give up!? You aren’t even going to try, because there’s an implied limit on what you think you can do? It just hurts. Unfortunately I didn’t see this video until after the season ended.

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Practices start next week. Just like at the start of anything new, I have to figure out who I’m going to be. The tough coach? The fun one? Soft-spoken or whistle-blowing? But because I’m female, coaching a bunch of boys, there’s an added layer of issues I have to think about. What do I do if they don’t listen? How will I prove myself to them, that I know this game inside and out?

So I’m packing a bunch of internal things in the coaching bag this year instead of hair ties. Confidence, a louder voice, and the knowledge that I’ll have better form and distance than these punks. They’ll challenge me to prove myself every week and I will meet their challenges, because I can.

I always love a good challenge.

Feminist in Limbo – Boys Will Be Boys

I still remember the first time I realized sexism was a very real thing.

I played soccer, and in my hometown that meant playing coed. Because of the lack of interest in soccer in my hometown, especially for girls, this usually meant I was one of very few girls on the “coed” team. Other teams we played didn’t always have a coed team, so we played the all boys teams by default, I guess. Defense was my usual position at the time. One particular game, this boy on the other team, their favored striker, kept attacking the side I was defending. Which is fairly normal; people will tend to stick to the side of the field and the foot they’re more comfortable with. But after several attempts to score on that side of the field without success, most people will switch it up and try something else. They’ll try it up the middle, they’ll try to pass – something! This guy just kept coming at me though. Eventually I moved over to the other side of the field to give me a break from playing constant defense against this guy. Except now this kid is coming at me on this side too! I thought it was strange, but just kept playing. Then, this kid brings the ball up the field and one of his teammates (likely tired of this ball hog) calls for him to pass the ball, because he’s going to lose it if he keeps headed in my direction. Instead of passing the ball to his completely open teammate, he just says “I got it! I can beat the girl.”

I can beat the girl.

I didn’t really think too much of it at the time, I was busy getting the ball away from this kid, but later I realized why he kept bringing the ball up whatever side I was on. He thought I was an easy target. That because I’m a girl, I couldn’t defend against him. That as the ‘weaker sex’ I couldn’t keep up.

Later in the game I stole the ball from him and made him look like a fool, and he eventually stopped bringing the ball up my side. I like to think I taught him a lesson that he kept with him for the rest of his life but I think that may be unrealistic. Stories like this happen all the time, even for younger girls and adult women.

And you know what the most common response is, when I ask why boys say and do things like this? Why they exhibit blatant sexism, why they’re jerks to girls for no reason?

“Boys will be boys,” as if it’s completely out of their control. Yet we’re the weaker sex.


In the professional and international soccer world this type of thing still exists, most recently with the current controversy over using turf in the upcoming Women’s World Cup:

Come to think of it, perhaps there is no better evidence that this boils down to sexism than the stance taken by female soccer players. No one has more to lose than they do. Nobody would be more willing to play this World Cup on turf, if they truly believed there was no other way, if they truly believed it was fair.

Female athletes are taking action because no one else is, because not enough people seem to care.

And that’s exactly what FIFA is counting on.

FIFA, the soccer governing body, is known for being pretty corrupt. But this is something else; this is low even for those guys. I get upset when FIFA does things that are biased against the US, like putting the men’s team in the Group of Death nearly every World Cup, but I can’t handle the way they’re dealing with the women’s tournament. Yes, I am happy the women have their own tournament, and I’m so happy with the leaps and bounds that have been made even in my short lifetime.

I’m just asking FIFA not to take a giant leap backward on this one. Don’t show those boys that you think women are the weaker sex, that women deserve less. Show the world you value the women’s game as much as the men’s. Give the fans, and the players, what they want. Doing good business means including the girls, too. Boys will be boys, but men don’t have to be.

Feminism in Limbo: Chapter 6

In college I took an Organizational Behavior class as part of the business school curriculum. The class was too easy; the grade based entirely on 3 multiple-choice exams that were based entirely on the textbook. I went to class anyway, because the professor was amazing, funny, and had wonderful stories to tell.

But one thing that stuck out from that class, was a chapter on gender and a very distinct difference between the genders I’d never really noticed before, but it made sense. (I’m paraphrasing a bit and it’s been awhile, so bear with me). Women, when they complain or have a problem, typically want sympathy or someone to listen to them. Men expect a solution. So when a woman is telling you about their awful day, and then this guy is trying to solve the problem, when all she wants is someone to empathize with her… or vis-versa, a man is telling a female about his awful day, and he wants the problem to go away, but this girl is just giving him all this sympathy he doesn’t want. You can see where this could lead to frustration.

The professor then went on to explain why this happens, why the difference exists (again, paraphrasing):

When a little kid falls down, parents (dads especially), will often treat a boy differently than a girl. If their little girl falls down, a dad will rush to the rescue, and make sure everything is ok. If a boy falls down, dad will tell him to get up and brush it off, maybe even say something like “dirt don’t hurt” and expect the boy to be on his way. This make girls accustomed to receiving sympathy when they fall, and boys are just told to get up, you’ll feel better, problem solved.

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My dad, seen in the picture holding me over a fence (which I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to do) wasn’t that kind of dad. If my brother fell down, Dad told him to get up and brush it off. If I fell down, I was told the exact same thing. At times, I sort of hated him for this. If anything, my dad pushed me a lot harder than he pushed my brother – whether academics, or sports, or other hobbies – he was always telling me where I could be better. I got an A; he’d ask why I didn’t get an A+. My team won a soccer game; he told me I looked a little tired toward the end, and I should get myself in better shape.

This gets to be exhausting after awhile. I just wanted to be celebrated for my accomplishments, not told it wasn’t good enough. That’s what I heard, every time he would ask why it wasn’t an A+.

I didn’t hear “you’re smart enough to have the top grades in all your classes,” instead I heard “this isn’t good enough.”

Now I’m an adult and understand why he did those things. A lot of people I know now who are successful, had a parent who was rough on them and was kind of an asshole. By default, kids (especially smart ones) can be lazy. They know they can be. They don’t have to study for the test, or ask questions to understand the homework. It pisses people off, but it’s true. So without that constant effing nagging – they’d continue to be lazy for the rest of their lives.

I don’t think my dad knew the ripple effect of what he was doing. The bar wasn’t set at “you did well for a girl,” but it was “did you come in absolute first place, boys or girls?” He was going to set the bar as high as possible, and not bring it down just because of my gender. He knew I was a smart kid, and wanted to make sure I reached my full potential. I was the first child, and I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason the bar was so high. It didn’t matter to my dad that I was a girl. He wouldn’t have been disappointed if my brother had been a girl, either. Even though my dad was the last chance for carrying on the family name, and without my brother the name would have died, he didn’t care. There was a lot of pressure from the family for my dad to have a boy.

“I was too worried about having a healthy baby, I didn’t care what it was as long as it was healthy,” he used to tell us. But, to the satisfaction of my aunts, a boy was born. So now the pressure is on my brother, I guess.

Even more powerful, it wasn’t because I was a girl that my dad was a pain in my ass. It was because I was smart, because I had the potential to do something real. He understood I’d have to deal with a lot worse if I was going to be a smart, successful, powerful woman someday. But he did it because he wanted his children to succeed – boy or girl.

Making Friends

I’m not going to lie to you. You’re in a really strange place right now. Arguably the weirdest time of your life. I don’t know what to tell you, but you will figure it out eventually. Somehow, it just happens. -A.

I have a favorite barista. She’s been my favorite for a very, very long time. Since I started drinking coffee out of both habit and necessity, A. has been there to further my addiction.

A. was also a friend and mentor to me in high school – she was very involved in a lot of the discussions I had about where to go, what to study, etc. She eventually hired my brother to work in the coffee shop because he’s related to me (and probably because he was well-qualified, I’m sure). So A. and I occasionally stayed in touch when I went to college, but not nearly as close as we were when I was in high school. Then I graduated, and after a few months of being on my own I happened to be in her area and surprised her at the new coffee shop she opened. I told her life in general was great, getting a job right out of school and all that. Except…after being in a new place, all alone, for a certain amount of time… I realized I was constantly going back to my hometown or my alma mater to meet up with my friends from high school and college. I suddenly realized I was unable to make friends in my new situation.

“But really, how do adults make friends?” was the question I kept asking myself. Sure, I had coworkers and they were great but also most of them were married with kids and not exactly open to my still-favorite weekend pastime of drinking like a college student. Plus – do I really want to hang out with these people outside of work, too? I get to see them 40 hours a week… shouldn’t I have separate friends for evenings and weekends? Perhaps these other friends should be people who don’t have children, and therefore a lifestyle more similar to mine? Where do I find these people?

For me, what makes this whole process even more difficult is how introverted I am. Unless I’m somewhat drunk or in a super-rare talkative and outgoing mood, I’m not going to just walk up and talk to someone. Small talk isn’t something I do if possible. If you’re a fellow introvert, you get it. If you’re an extrovert, go read Quiet by Susan Cain (or if you don’t want to commit that kind of time, watch her TED talk). So even if I did want to go to a bar alone, where other people my age and with my same interests were hanging out…I wouldn’t be able to say hello anyway.

Another option could be that I could join a sports team, either something I’ve played before and am halfway decent at (soccer) or I could try something completely new (any other sport ever) and fail miserably. Either way, I’m embarrassingly out of shape and that’s no way to make a good first impression on my new friends!

My mom suggested I could get a second job, which did not appeal to me in the slightest. But still, I entertained the idea. Eventually I decided to volunteer as a soccer coach, for something to do. But that didn’t really result in any friends…just met some cool parents and their cool kids. Neither of which fall into the category of friends I’m looking for.

I moved up here in May, it’s now the following January… and I still find myself driving an hour or more to go hang out with friends. I eventually decided to join the company indoor soccer team, so at the very least I’ll meet people who work at my company, but whom I wouldn’t normally see every day. That almost counts, right?

Maybe this will lead to something, or at least help me figure out how to make friends in my own introverted way.