She made it half-way through the speech before she started to cry. I mean, how do you say goodbye to 16 boys you love very much without saying you love them very much. Because you can’t, you know, say that. Not when you’re a soccer coach. You’re supposed to be tough, doling out the laps as punishment for the kids who are goofing off, sending in substitutes for kids who aren’t playing their best and carrying them off when they get injured.
So when the head coach of my son’s soccer team stepped down after the last game of the spring season yesterday afternoon, turning over the team to us, her assistant coaches, she didn’t tell the boys how she felt so much as she showed it. After a brief speech praising their improvement in skills and maturity during her three-year tenure as head coach, Amy pulled out a bag of mini practice balls, each signed by her, and called out each kid one-by-one — ending with her own son — and drop kicked the balls until each kid tracked them down. Then she kicked a brand new game ball — the one we sorely needed several games ago — and sent the assistant coaches out to get it.
This was her passing of the guard, and I’ll bet it was heartbreaking. It was for me, yet I get to keep on coaching the boys. But Amy’s schedule got too busy, her life too complicated to keep up the commitment required to coach a U-11 boys’ travel soccer team — the hours of practice each week, the paperwork, the games, the rain-outs, the politics, the irate opposing coaches, the useless refs, the make-up games an hour away during rush hour traffic from New York City, the bad calls, the approaching thunderstorms.
As a parent, I understand how hard it is to carve out the time to coach. As a coach, I know how hard it is to give it up. Coaching is essentially teaching. It’s taking a child and molding him into something better, both in skills and in character, and it’s truly an amazing experience. A time-consuming, sometimes aggravating and thankless experience. But to be a coach is to be one of the most important figures in a child’s life — in 16 children’s lives — and yes, we coaches love your kids.
Sure, they drive us crazy with their belching during practice and the way they go off on tangents about everything from World Cup games to homework to balls (tee hee) to look! It’s a deer! when we are trying to explain the next drill or the line-up of the game to them. But we love them like a teacher loves her class. And I know that it was really hard for Amy to say good-bye to her team, to her boys.
When the fall season starts, I am sure we will hear Amy, er, not-coaching-because-you’re-not-supposed-to-do-that-from-the-parents’-side-of-the-field. And it will be hard for all of us, but most of all for the former head coach of the team (this coach included) that learned so very much from her. I will think of her and all she did for the team at every game and every practice…especially when they giggle when I forget to say “soccer” before I say “balls,” because you’re abandoning the only other female on the team, Amy. Lord. Help. Me.