Auskick and other kids’ clinics aside, I’ve never had the urge to spoil my enjoyment of sport by coaching or refereeing. Those thankless tasks for extroverts and masochists…
Spectating or playing is my go, however average I am at those capers too.
Alas, three times this year I’ve had to stand in for my kids’ soccer coach. Notwithstanding my limited grounding in futbol and that coaching Under 9’s in anything is more an exercise in herding cats, to say Ange Postecoglou has nothing to fear is the understatement of the world game. Mind you, having your own offspring in the team puts one in a particularly invidious position, as I was to find out on Sunday.
After the obligatory warm-up, 17 ‘leave the balls alone!’ and 26 ‘be quiet and listens’ I finally managed to get the group’s undivided attention. Naively I attempted to impart some wisdom I stole from the ancient football philosopher Ronald Democritus Barassi.
If it is to be it is up to me
I implored them to take responsibility for committing themselves to the basics of defence, teamwork and life. Maybe one of them will remember it some day, but I highly doubt it.
For the first time, a couple games ago Miss 8 went goalkeeper for a good part of the match and performed admirably. Last week the team was having a stinker, so as the over-protective last minute stand-in I decided to spare her baring the brunt of it all.
In the pre-match I gave into her pleading. However, pitted against a team that demoralised us previously, for safety’s sake I handed the gloves to one of the boys to begin with.
Surprisingly we were 3-0 up at the half, though our defence was still flaky. Despite Miss 8 copping a face numbing falcon requiring ice and her mother’s mothering, I gave her the nod. The other side weren’t a patch on last time and I had to honour my promise.
Little did I know they’d enacted their own ‘rope-a-dope’, totally lulling us into a false sense of superiority. Two large, skilled reinforcements suddenly appeared after the orange break and wreaked havoc.
Bang, bang, bang!
In a transformation to rival Caitlin Jenner, they were now running rings around us and our lead was obliterated in a thrice.
Poor Miss 8 was left isolated – the odd teammate that did get back in time to defend as useful as a Pokémon. Mark Schwarzer wouldn’t have stopped the close range cannon balls. I knew how she’d be feeling – it wasn’t her fault but that was irrelevant. Do I get her out of there and wrongly convey blame or do I risk further trauma and humiliation by leaving her be? Regardless of being the only girl afield and my own daughter braving the storm, it was a vexing question that routinely faces coaches when a struggling player needs support.
Then two of our subs began doing god knows what under my feet, making nuisances of themselves. Not good timing boys.
‘Just friggin’ watch the game or go somewhere else’, I barked, clearly showing the stress of a hard won lead widdled against the wall. Thankfully no parents were within earshot of my overreaction. Where’s a phone to slam when you need it? Or a hole to bury one’s self?
Whether they weren’t listening or I’d communicated poorly was moot. But my gut said they’re better than that. I felt the frustration of every coach in the history of sport.
If it is to be it is up to them, ultimately.
I decided to show faith in Miss 8 and thankfully we got one back and some time elapsed before we gave up another. I couldn’t tell if it was the ball in the face or her perceived loss of face that elicited tears but she wanted to stay in goal. She’s a stubborn one. One more minute was my compromise, as if it was past 8.30pm.
Soon after the change another defensive SNAFU resulted in an own goal and we slumped to 4-5. I was just an annoying spectator now.
Man up! Get back! Defend! Go! Down the line! Cross it!
Then a miracle goal from a corner kick squared the ledger before Mr 9 put us back in front. For a moment or two I wasn’t the coach or a spectator, just a proud dad.
It was a cracker of a second half, easily the best for the season. I had nothing to do with it, that much I know.
Miss 8 went back on and actually played a part in helping us hang on but there was confusion over the score. Was it a draw or did we win 6-5? It’s under 9’s and they don’t officially keep a tally but in the moment it’s terribly important, besides (not really). I didn’t want to own a 0-3 record though. With no post-match lollies this week most of the kids had already left before a 6-5 scoreline was determined, and the sun shone a little brighter. I think I even had an inkling as to why coaches do it.
Miss 9 spent some time in the afternoon Youtubing soccer highlight and blooper reels. Maybe subconsciously it served as therapy. It was good to see her laughing again.
Come bedtime and Miss 8 still needed to debrief. My best Robin Williams’ ‘it’s not your fault’ helped. The external pain from the ball thwacking her in the face had also subsided.
It was a beautiful game, in the end.