Before the station wagon and the sensible haircut, before the modest clothing and industrial strength brassieres, before nightclubs and proposals there was soccer. Oh, let me clarify, in my childhood there was soccer.
In late August of 1975 my Mother was on the telephone with her friend and said to me, "Bill’s going to coach Jen’s soccer team this year. Would you like to try playing?" I remember the phone call, I remember that my mother was in the kitchen with the phone that had the very long cord. I remember saying yes but I don’t recall being either enthusiastic or excited.
I remember tryouts. I remember coaches with clipboards asking me to dribble the ball between cones and then shoot into the goal. I remember wondering what it meant to dribble a ball and how hard I was supposed to kick it? I remember thinking dribble was a funny word. I remember Bill was there, smiling at me the whole time. Telling me I was doing a great job.
I wasn’t. I was horrible.
There was a draft (yes a draft for five year old girls playing soccer) and there were practices once or twice a week. We had uniforms that we returned at the end of every season (good idea) and a team sponsor that picked up the cost of our sweatshirts.
Every Saturday we came out to play soccer for an hour. Eleven girls on a full sized field, running like crazy for an hour.
We never won a single game that season. Not one.
I did, however, score a goal. Sadly, I was the goalie and in my excitement to kick the ball as high and as far as I possibly could, I gave the ball a mighty toss and kicked my leg up as high in the air as possible. I felt like I was taking flight. I made contact with the ball on the very tip toe of my cleat and the ball soared backwards, over my head and smack dab into my very own goal.
It was a soul crushing moment. I don’t think anyone said anything, the parents on the sidelines were oddly silent. I heard Bill though, he was laughing. So I laughed too, and it was okay.
I continued playing AYSO for many years thereafter. Mostly I was on teams that won more than they lost. The coaches were tough, the practices were long, and many times they were after dark. There were no women coaches; we were the first group of girls who were enjoying the benefits of Title IX. We played hard, we played for an hour and there was always a score. The first and second place teams got trophies and the rest of the teams got to play soccer.
We loved our trophies, they had immense value.
During the summer months there was sand soccer. In the Springtime we busied ourselves with volleyball and impromptu scrimmages. My community lived for soccer.
When High School began I made the soccer team. You had to have a 3.0 average to play CIF soccer at that school. Guess who performed at school? Because sports matter.
As I coach my daughter’s teams, I try to remember the goals I scored on my own teams. The humiliating flubs. I fondly recall Bill’s bassoon laughter filling the fields, and the joy of winning a game in the early morning mist. I remember running laps and laughing that we were smarter than the coach, because he didn’t see us cut the corners. I find myself wistful for the scent of fresh cut grass mixed with cool ocean breezes.
When my girls don’t perform it’s not their failure, it’s mine. Because it means somewhere along the way I didn’t make them love the game. If they aren’t in it to win then I haven’t given them a team. If they are only in it to win then I’ve coached without laughter, integrity and joy.
My girls are winning this year. They are scoring goals left and right, they’re blocking shots that fly perilously close to their faces. My girls are skilled players, it’s good. They’re celebrating together. My girls are becoming a team, and when they come to be each others best friends I am truly a success as a coach.
When you see me jumping up and down on the sidelines screaming like a madwoman and WOOT-ing it up as my goalie makes the save, understand that there is purpose. When I tell the other families to get off the field, it belongs to my girls for the next hour, there is purpose. When I cheer for the other teams’ goalie and I don’t let 9 year old girls drink water until after they’ve thanked the referees, it has purpose. For a few hours each week I have nine girls.
It is my privilege. Thank you for sharing your daughters, excusing my flubs and respecting their childhood. Being soccer mom… where else could I possibly be?