The 12-Year-Old Driving Home from Soccer


rainy soccer game

Boach Ben Binger

During our soccer season this fall, we had an earthquake, a hurricane and a blizzard. And no, those weren’t the names of opposing teams. It was just soccer season in New Jersey this year.

God, I miss it. Even the kitty litter.

As the assistant coach of my son’s U-13 soccer team, I have stood in the muddy puddle also known as “the corner of our home soccer field,” raking sand and kitty litter to make the field playable. Just me and the men, who are fellow coaches and fathers with leafblowers, all of us trying to dry out a rain- and snow-soaked field before the referee showed up to inspect it. Every single time, the ref declared, “Play on.”

I spent much of the season wearing long underwear under my jeans, and just in case, I kept my purple down winter jacket in the car starting in September, when we played under the lights in northwestern New Jersey during the season’s first frost warning. I stocked my soccer bag with toe warmers and an umbrella, and I kept towels and blankets next to the bag of soccer balls that would roll around my car on turns between games all week long.

I didn’t mind.

Here is where I am supposed to go on about how the kid who had troubles shooting and then became our top scorer blah, blah, blah. But that’s not really it. It isn’t really why I love to coach soccer, because coaching is more than what happens on the field. It’s what happens when you’ve got an iPod hooked up to your car’s speakers, a car full of players and rush hour traffic on the way home from a previously snowed-out game, which was stuffed into a hole in our busy schedule.

The kids in my car wanted to hear some rap, so I cued up what I could find on my iPod. They rolled down their windows, even though we were still defrosting from the game, and I turned up the song as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Which is how the commuters on New Jersey’s Route 280 that Friday evening got to see (and hear) a middle-aged white suburban mom, an African American 12-year-old who looks 16 and three blond boys in the back seat bopping our heads in sync along to Beck’s “Que Onda Guero.”

I have never managed to get grown-ups to do this with me. Grown-ups have places to go. They have rush hour traffic ahead and dinner to think about. They have to plan the rest of the weekend and stop for milk and get gas and wash the soccer uniforms for the game the very next day.

They don’t have the giggles and the beat and the “vegetable man in the vegetable van” lyrics to share with each other. They don’t have people smiling at them from other cars, and they don’t spend dinner in a pizza parlor replacing the first letter of every word with the letter “B,” thus making me Boach Ben Binger. (Lucky for me, no one was named “Mitch.”)

I miss the soccer, but most of all, I miss the team. Without them, I am just another grown-up with milk to buy and dinner to think about and a purple down winter coat abandoned in the back of my car.

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