I ran into someone I used to coach in soccer today. It brought back good memories of that time in my life. I was sixteen when I coached boys aged 8-9. I did it because my Mom said she didn’t think it was something I could do. I remember how offended I was at the time, but it’s since occurred to me she did it on purpose. (She used the Jedi Mom Trick on me more times than I’d like to admit.) Soccer and Cross Country are the sports I don’t suck at. I was assigned the position of the goalie when I was six and played it ever after. The most challenging part at first was paying attention.
The first time someone scored on me, it was because I was chasing a butterfly behind the goal. I wasn’t even in bounds. My coach was great because I only remember him laughing at my mistake. His daughter was my age, so I had him for several years. He taught me how to play and how to practice. He told me sports are all about math and the key to doing well is practicing. (He totally got me.) I went from team entertainment to a team member, and it did good things for my confidence. When I first met my team of 8 and 9-year-old boys, I asked them which ones played the year before. Everyone did. I remember smiling, half because they were so adorable, and the rest because I realized it was going to be a cinch coaching them.
I coached the same boys for two seasons, then went into the Army. We won first place both seasons. They choose the teams by neighborhoods, so I held all our practices at a local park a block from home. I always started out with stretching, then we’d run laps. I got cones and balls from the city park system, and we’d practice dribbling and passing. They were all different sizes, some far taller than others. But they all had the same sense of humor, which used to crack me up. Anything gross was golden. My interactions with my older brothers were different. It was my first time experiencing the incredible sweetness of little boys.
It surprised and delighted me to discover it. Children are highly conscious of fairness at that age, as well. I would ask them who should start? They would select the boys who did well in practice and neglect those who skipped because it was only fair. Everyone got to play in every game because that too was only fair. They all got along so well and were bursting with energy. I had no idea I would adore them so much when I agreed to coach them. I’m so glad I did. I don’t think I ever would have found out this beautiful secret about ages 8 and 9, otherwise.
What happens to them after that age, I don’t know. I think a lot of damage is being done by telling children how to feel, act, play, etc. It seems to me a lot of men on this planet had something beautiful beaten out of them when they were still forming. Not all, thank goodness. But it makes me sad. I was happy to see one of my boys all grown up with children of his own. He gave me a hug, which I’m thinking means he made it through childhood intact. Whew!