Back about the middle of July, my buddy Thomas texted me with a proposition. His middle child and youngest daughter, Lauren, was going to play soccer. He planned to coach and wanted to know if I would agree to help him as his co-coach. I have no idea what compelled him to choose me out of all the people he knows. I am certain it was not for my vast experience as an award winning soccer coach since my entire knowledge of soccer comes from one season as a high school head coach of necessity — which I’ve already discussed — and a few viewings of various FIFA World Cups over the years. Furthermore, I have no children of my own of any age so the little ones are a mystery to me, albeit an adorable one. Whatever his reasons, I found my fingers texting back “Sure thing; it’ll be fun.”
Looking back, I’m relatively certain I figured Thomas would find someone better suited OR Lauren would decided to stick with horseback riding OR the Mayan Apocalypse would be several months early. I don’t think I seriously considered actually being a children’s soccer coach until a month later when I was actually sitting next to Thomas at the intro meeting for the MFBC Upward Soccer League. By then, my pride wouldn’t let me run away screaming; although it might have actually been less embarrassing if I had.
Too late for that, though. I was an Upward Soccer Coach.
Here I should tell you a few important details about this particular league. Upward Soccer is a Christian outreach program. Each practice and game include a time for a short devotion. It’s a way to learn about Jesus and play a little soccer. At least, that’s the theory.
One other important thing I need to mention. Our team? Three kindergarteners and four first graders. What experience I do have with children has always been with the middle school or older crowd. Now, I was expected to teach the “itty-bittys” about “The Beautiful Game.” If you are already laughing, stay tuned. It gets better.
In Upward, we play on a quarter sized field with four players per side. We don’t have goalies because no one wants a K5er getting kicked in the mouth going for a save. The goals are tiny as well — six feet wide by three feet high. Other than that, most of the rules are just like regular soccer.
Our team is Lauren, Addy, Sofia, Garrison, Jonas, Collin, and True. We are the Sea Lions, but secretly I like to refer to us as The Magnificent Seven. Officially, it’s called Upward Soccer, but a more accurate name for it would be Amoeba Ball. Keep in mind, K5 and 1st graders — eight on a field at a time. Basically, it’s a #3 sized soccer ball amidst sixteen whirling, stabbing, jabbing, and flailing lower limbs. Wherever the ball moves, the cloud of dust and children follow. Position play is a distant dream. If the ball squirts out of the scrum and a team-mate kicks it next instead of an opponent, we call it a “pass” and are deliriously happy.
It truly is like herding cats; especially given how all the kittens don’t always want to play at the same time.
Take Addy for instance. She is a precious child. At our first practice, I was trying to get her and her teammates to line up in two lines. How hard can it be, right? Let me put it this way; I used to laugh at the colored tiles on the floor at Budge’s school after she told me they used them to teach the children where to line up correctly. If I could have, I would have tiled the entire soccer field just to have colored squares. In little Addy’s case, however, it wouldn’t have helped. She was having a terrible time figuring out how to line up so I knelt down next to her and said, “Baby, it’s like getting in line to go to the gym or the lunchroom at school or maybe lining up to go out to recess.” She looked at me so very sweetly with her little pink bow and her cute glasses making her eyes even bigger and brighter and said in a completely guileless, precious voice,
“Mr Shannon, I’m homeschooled.” So much for THAT analogy.
Another tendency of these little ones I’m learning is how whatever enters their minds must exit through their mouths IMMEDIATELY lest it be forgotten, which would be a terrible tragedy. For example, here’s an exchange during our first devotion midway through the initial practice:
Thomas: “Can anyone tell me who Jesus is?”
Garrison: “I’m firsty; can I get a dwink of water?”
Jonas: “Does he go to school around here?”
Lauren: “Daddy, we learned about Jesus at Camp Grace.”
True: “I’ve got new cleats! See them?” (Holds up foot with new cleat on it)
That’s just the beginning of the tales. I have a ton more to say about our little team and since the season runs through October, expect more posts about this adventure. Right now though, I have to go do some research. Sofia is DYING to play Sharks and Minnows at the next practice and I have NO idea what she means!
Love y’all and keep those feet (and new cleats) clean!