Today was the last game of the soccer season. It went something like this.
I check for last minute team emails, write out the team roster, assigning each player a number. Two girls have asked for another chance in goal before the season ends, Since all that have wanted to play goalie had played (or those that I have talked into at least trying it), I put the two goalies in first. Important to note here that one of the girls requesting to be in net is my daughter.
I do the rotations with the players that will be at the game. We will be without the services of two players due to schedule conflicts, (school.. pfft, whatever. kidding!). After the rotations are penciled in, I go though it again to be sure that everyone plays about the same amount of time and rotates around the field. This is recreational youth soccer, not the Majors, so the only strategy in doing the rotations is that everyone gets to play. Done.
I review the schedule to confirm our opposing team for our last game. Gulp. The team we are to be playing tonight is the first team we faced this season. They shelled us. Like really bad. They are a good team and quite frankly I find it puzzling they are even in our league, because the other teams we have played were pretty good matches, but I digress. The team we are playing is, on average, my size. Our team, on average, is the size of your everyday knobby kneed 11/12 year old girl. Our opponents have and will drill the ball through the net. And my little baby girl is insisting on playing goalie. I feel nauseous.
Moment of truth.. Do I talk my daughter out of playing goal to protect her from failure? Do I even say anything? I decide that she will have to wait for a pep talk until game time just like everybody else and will play goal. I channel Hope Solo and every other soccer standout I can think of to protect my daughter and help her play well. Wouldn’t the family therapist be proud?
We arrive at the field about the same time as my co-coach and his daughter. Our team starts to file in. So does the opponent. As we are warming up with the usual drills, our girls notice that this the team that crushed their soccer dreams at the beginning of the season. They start to say things like, “that blonde girl scares me” and “they are really good” and “why do we have to play them again?”. I shrug it off, telling them this is just another game and they are just another team. But I am lying. We are the 1980 US Hockey team and they are the (team formerly known as) the Soviets, if you will.
I reflect briefly on pieces of advice I received and coaching books I read this spring. Time to huddle up and get the game started. I take a knee in the middle of the huddle. “Girls, this is going to be a fast game. You are going to have to hustle. You are going to have to be aggressive and you are going to be scared of no one. I am proud of all of you.” Not exactly Herb Brooks, but I do alright. We do our cheer – KAPOW! And we are off. My stomach has not been this nervous since… I honestly can’t remember. I have butterflies in my stomach and feel like I could shit my pants any second. I want these girls to play well and feel good about their efforts. Also, I want my daughter to do well in goal (and stay injury-free).
Whistle blows, game starts. What can I say? Our team delivers. They run fast, staying with the opponents twice their size (what DO they feed these girls anyway?). They are aggressive. A couple of the players are having the game of their lives. It is exciting to watch. I am, as always, constantly yelling. We go through our rotations and I make a point to congratulate each player on her monstrous play. My daughter has a few remarkable saves in goal.
Halftime comes and I rally the troops again. Stay with them, I say. You are playing aggressively and hustling and getting to the ball. Keep up the good passing. Keep up the pressure. We line up for the second half. New goalie in net for us is a little nervous, so the other coach goes over by her. She has a few saves that are out-of-her-mind stunning. I am hoping the dad that always takes the pictures is getting all this. Our parents are doing a great job encouraging everyone on the team. My nervousness is gone and I am truly in the moment, enjoying everything. And still yelling.
As the game ends, I tell the girls how I am immensely proud of them. They left everything on the field tonight. They cheered for each other and were in it every minute. It is obvious they are pleased with themselves, as they should be.
So.. You may think that this where I tell you that we overcame this team twice our size. The opponent with passing precision like a laser and leg strength to rival my husband. I could, but the final score was 6-1, not in our favor. And it does not matter.
It does not matter because our team left it all out there. They played their best game, they never got down on themselves and when we scored the lone goal, they had a look of pure, unadulterated, cartwheel-through-a-flowery-meadow joy. This is what I want for them. I want them to continue to compete. To not be intimidated. To give it their all in whatever they do.
For the last couple of months I have been a rookie coach to a group of girls that restore my faith in our youth. I am grateful their parents shared them with me, if only for two evenings per week. And I think the best part of the experience is they all asked if I will coach them again next spring, including my daughter.