Tag Archives: Upward Soccer

The Little Cats are in the Barn

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I took to the sideline with a twinge of sadness this morning because it was the last game of the season for the mighty Sea Lions of the MFBC Upward Fall Soccer League and unfortunately, we were a little shorthanded today.

Right off, I missed my little cotton-topped Garrison with his front-toothless smile, but he was at a father-son camp-out weekend and I could hardly begrudge him that. Thomas and I agreed of all the bambinos, he “grew”. He was already a first class shooter and in the early games, he worried more about the score than the team, but as the season progressed, he picked up new skills, including a tremendous ability to find an open teammate with a great pass. He also calmed down considerably from the ball of energy and bounce who showed up at the first practice to hang on my legs and shoulders. He was really a fun kid to be around.

We also missed Tru today and that worried me most of all because his mom was in charge of snacks for after the game. I didn’t really care about snacks, but Tru missed the last practices following our penultimate. I missed that game also after an ER visit to get Budge’s gall bladder checked, but Thomas told me Tru had an “incident” where he beat on one of our girls during his session on the sidelines. Knowing Tru, he was showing affection, but it was unnerving to the little lady and her parents and I certainly understand. Immediately after the final horn Tru’s, mom scooped him up and hurried away; that was the last we saw him. Thomas’ reminder email went unanswered. I wish I could say Tru matured as much as the others, but he didn’t and I’m pretty sure it’s because Tru has more pressing problems on his little mind than soccer. I hope he’ll come out the other side okay. I know the road he’s on and I hope something I said sticks with him in the darkness ahead.

At first, I was worried Sophie might not show because she missed practice Tuesday, which is completely unlike her. We found out today when she showed up what caused her absence. She and her parents spent a week at DisneyWorld! I now know she doesn’t like Space Mountain — too dark — but she loved Splash Mountain and Thunder River and she met Mickey and ate at Cinderella’s Castle and saw all the fireworks and stayed in a neat hotel and got mouse ears with her name on them and voted for Pooh and not Captain Hook and WHEW! . . . well, you get the idea! We learned this during the game as she related each part of the story of her dream vacation while standing next to Thomas or me as the ball was in play, but on the other end of the field and therefore of less concern in the moment than the happiest place on earth. Did I mention Sophie is a darling, intelligent ONLY CHILD? She is not doted upon, but it’s obvious who the family’s centers on. I will really miss her.

I’ll still get to see little Lauren on at least a weekly basis since she’s my co-coach’s daughter and the reason he, then I, got into this gig in the first place. She improved a lot over the season, especially in endurance. Our first practices, she spent walking instead of running, but today, she managed to play the entire game non-stop. She is a precious little lady even if TREMENDOUSLY dramatic! Her parents are in the same community group at church as Budge and me and for the first several months, she didn’t care much for me. I’d speak to her, but she’d walk away with all the haughtiness a six-year-old can muster. After the first practice, though, she started talking my ears off. When her mother asked her why, Lauren’s reply was, “Oh Mom, Mr. Shannon’s my COACH!” Apparently, that makes it all different!

Now Jonas didn’t need to build up his endurance. For the entire season, he was never still. If he was standing, he was hopping from leg to leg. Sitting in the circle during half-time devotions, he bounced on his bottom, his energy level off any scale. I mentioned to Thomas if we could bottle Jonas’ energy, we’d make a fortune. I don’t think he knows how to walk; he ran full tilt everywhere he went, on the field and off. Of all the team, he was THE most competitive. Even when we reminded him the object was to have fun, he was always keenly aware of the “score.” He was a phenomenal player and we didn’t teach him much he didn’t already know, but he was a ball of energy on the field and always got the team going, even if he was prone to take the ball from anyone on the field, including his mates!

One frequent victim of Jonas’ ball theft was little Collin. Collin is without a doubt one of the ten cutest children I know. His round little face is capable of such exquisite expression, from extreme irritation, usually after someone took the ball from him, to boundless euphoria when he infrequently scored a goal. Oh I loved being around that child. I swear he could charm an angel. I felt we didn’t have a great start because he didn’t speak to Thomas or me during the first two practices or games. He’d just look when I called his name to put him in. I asked his daddy if he was quiet and dad grinned — a mirror image of his youngest son — and said, “Oh, just wait til he decides he likes you.” he started liking us halfway through the third practice and when he started talking, he didn’t stop. I didn’t mind though because even his voice was adorable.

There’s not one of my seven little soccer kittens I wouldn’t take into my own home in a skinny minute. I told all the parents I’d be glad to take them off their hands. Of course, they know I have no children so I got more than one knowing smile and nod. Apparently, I do not know of what I speak!

I still can’t believe I spent three months coaching these itty-bitties, but it was some of the greatest fun I’ve ever had in my life. Lauren wants to play in the spring, so hopefully Coach Thomas and Coach Shannon can put together another group of amazing soccer babies!

Here’s hoping. Love y’all and clean your soccer cleats!

 

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They’re K5, Dude; Chill Out

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The indefatigable Sea Lions returned to the win column today after a rain out last week. What made this morning’s victory especially enjoyable was our competition. For the first time all year, Coach Thomas and I finally got to play a team whose coach shares the same philosophy about Upward Soccer as we do — we’re all here to have a good time, learn a little about soccer, and enjoy some sunshine.

I wish he could get such admirable sentiments across to the rest of the coaches in the league.

I am not the smartest and certainly not the wisest of men, but I am somewhat observational and one thing I have seen at every level of sports I have ever participated in as a player, coach, or spectator is take-it-to-the-bank guaranteed — any team is a DIRECT reflection of its coaching staff, be it a staff of one or twelve. Simply put, if the coach is a jerk, most of the team will be jerks too, with the opposite being thankfully true as well.

Take our first game for instance. We were way overmatched. The opposing team had athletes, not players. Sometimes, that happens in randomly assigned teams, but what doesn’t happen is a team of K5 and 1st graders who were out for blood and victory. This bunch didn’t try anything but scoring. Each of their seven players was an athletic prodigy. I won’t be at all surprised to see any of the seven playing some sport at the pro level in ten to fifteen years. What was obvious to me by the first water break was this group’s mentality was to stomp us flat on Saturday . . . they could learn about Jesus tomorrow. Their coach was on the field (allowed and encouraged in Upward sports) berating any player who happened to lose possession of the ball to one of our little ones. We lost by a lot but there’s only one problem with that

KEEPING OPEN SCORE IS A VIOLATION OF THE SPIRIT OF UPWARD LEAGUES.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these people who thinks everyone needs a trophy and life isn’t about winners and losers. I believe we need leagues where the goal IS winning so kids whom that matters to have a place to go. Upwards, however, isn’t that place. Here, everybody — by rule — gets equal playing time, everybody gets stickers after the game, and — most of all — everybody has a devotion at practice and at halftime of all the games. These leagues are supposed to foster what their name implies UPWARD focus. The games are supposed to be all about instruction in the sport and learning about Jesus.

Not many of the coaches seem to have gotten that memo even though Ms. Becky stressed the point many times at the organizational meeting before we even got our teams. Besides, I believe if your self-esteem and worth as a man depends AT ALL on the score of a 36 minute soccer game between children just barely old enough to stay up til dark during the week, you have issues they make several nice pills for.

Take our last game two weeks ago. The coach of the other team was INSANE. I’ve never been so happy to win a game. He was a Rule Nazi who didn’t know the rules. For example, he called Coach Thomas’ daughter for being offsides and took the ball away from her.  If this maniac had read his rulebook, he would know this league DOESN’T HAVE OFFSIDES!! We only play 4 on 4 at a time and the fields are the size of a big living room. Goalkeeping isn’t even allowed so how in the world can someone be offsides? Lauren was crushed — and crushed needlessly. Thankfully, Thomas is a much better man than I or the league would be short one coach.

This week was nice though. The opposite coach was a big bear of a guy recently moved down from Pennsylvania. I knew he was different immediately because of two important missing pieces of his equipment. First, he didn’t wear sunglasses and second, he didn’t have on a visor like the Second Coming of Steve Spurrier. He smiled constantly. His team lacked a few players at the very start (pretty common actually) but he insisted we play our 4 on his 3. Thankfully a fourth player showed up for him just at kickoff and his whole team was there by halftime.

He was great. He helped OUR players just as much as his team. When his team scored he cheered and high-fived everyone BUT when OUR team scored a goal he ALSO high-fived and cheered them as well. Our kids noticed the difference as well, which is something EVERYONE needs to remember. Kids are the greatest judge of character in the world. They can spot a phony or a faker in a skinny minute and they WILL call you out. Any time you see players our kids’ ages hugging their coach, you know he must be doing something right. When it was time for the halftime “Sunday School lesson” he sat with his team and constantly tapped and patted to keep them quiet and attentive to the speaker. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep SEVEN itty bitties still and quiet for a seven minute lesson? He did it though.

So if you lead children, remember — they are children, not little adults. Let them have fun and go easy on the pressure and nit-picking. The “real world” will be slapping them in the face soon enough so allow them some joy while they can enjoy it!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean . . . and warm! Fall is here!

For Such a Time as This?

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My little buddy’s biography!

The mighty Sea Lions came away with a hard-won victory today in our Upward Soccer match. Our scrappy little bunch played hard even though we were short-handed. Turns out my little home-schooled “right fielder” decided soccer just wasn’t for her so she’s done for the year. {Just a note, if you don’t know what a “right fielder” is when used as a yard stick for an athlete’s skill, you never played t-ball or coach’s pitch; if you must have some other analogy, the proper football one would be a kid who is “end, guard, and tackle.”}

But I digress.

In addition to my little star-gazer, we also missed Tru this morning. His mom sent Coach Thomas an email earlier in the week letting us know they had a family vacation planned and wouldn’t be at the game today, but I still missed him, mostly because of last week. I felt like he and I bonded during our trouncing by the vicious Otters.

To really understand this story, first, you have to know this — Tru HATES soccer. I think he’d rather slide down a jagged envelope and put the resulting paper cut into a vat of vinegar rather than play. All you have to know is his mom had to CARRY him from the car to the field for the first game. He’s done a little better since then, but he still has pretty much zero interest in the game. In our first game, we could barely keep him on the field because he kept wanting to go sit in his mom’s lap. Even when he’s on the field, he’s not crazy about sticking his leg into the cleated, shin-guarded blender that is the scrum for the ball in this level of soccer. Most of the time, he’ll be at the opposite end of the field from the action picking dandelions or looking at the clouds. If you’ve ever read the marvelous children’s book Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, you have a COMPLETELY accurate picture of my little Tru.

Last week though, he seemed more Ferdinandesque than usual. He seemed downright sad. When it was his turn to sit out a segment, I sat down next to him on the tarp / bench. He was picking at a scab on his knee just as any little boy would, but I could tell something was serious so I leaned in to him and said, “Tru, dude, what’s wrong with you today?”

I guess this is how we looked to everyone else.

Now I was expecting a typical “Tru” answer along the lines of “I hate being out here” or “Can I go sit with my grandparents?” Instead, I got a blurting, sprawling answer that hit me like a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick. Tru said, “I just don’t feel right, Coach Shannon. I feel weird.” Not surprisingly, Tru didn’t know the word he was hunting was “depressed.” How could a little boy know such a huge word?

He continued, “I just moved up here from a place called Lexington. My mommy and daddy aren’t living together anymore and now I’ve got a new daddy and he’s okay, but he’s not my real daddy and all my friends are back there and I want mommy and daddy to get back together and I want my old room back but mommy says that’s never going to happen so I just want to go back to Grammy’s and sit in my room and play with my toys ’cause I don’t want to be around anyone but daddy is going to come get me this afternoon and Mommy seems sad about that.” He never cried. Never broke. Never even whined. Just stated the facts with all the emotion and vocabulary at his 5.5 year old disposal.

But this is pretty much how it felt.

For a long few seconds, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t trust my voice because as I sat on that paint-smeared blue tarp with a gorgeous blue sky overhead and a fresh breeze in my face, I went back. I literally saw the years melt away in some parody of a Hollywood flashback sequence. The decades fell away until it was no longer a 5.5 year old little boy and a 41 year old coach sitting side by side; it was a 5.5 year old little boy and a just barely turned 6 little boy who reached out and put a hand on Tru’s shoulder. The six-year-old was once again watching a spray painted sky blue Chevy pickup truck with two bags of clothes in the bed pulled out of the gravel driveway of a little single-wide trailer as HIS daddy drove away and began the upheaval that would define the next 30+ years of that little boy’s life.

Then just as quickly as it happened, it was over and I was “there” again. I looked at Tru and dared my voice to crack as I talked to him. I said, “Buddy, if anyone on this field right now knows what you mean, I do.”

He looked up at me and he looked so small, “My mommy and daddy split apart when I was just a tiny bit older than you. It was awful and I cried and cried for days.” He looked even sadder, “Tru, it’s never going to be ‘okay’ again. I can’t lie to you and you are way to little to understand what all I wish I could tell you, but I can tell you this . . . your mommy loves you, your daddy STILL loves you and your second daddy loves you as well and that is ALL that matters. Right now you are sad and hurting because the world has fallen apart and no one bothered to ask you what you think about any of it, they just dragged you along ’cause they’re bigger than you.”

At that, Tru looked up at me an nodded knowingly, “But Tru, even though it’ll never be ‘okay’ you will be okay. You’ll get through this. It feels like the end of the world and it’s probably the worst thing you will ever go through for a long, long time, but it will get better. It’ll never make sense until you are too old for it to matter anymore. In fact, it’ll probably NEVER make sense, but IT WILL GET EASIER. Just hang on. Love your mommy and keep loving your daddy. It’ll be okay.”

By that time, the game was over and everyone was shaking hands and giving out “effort stars” so I didn’t get to say much more to the little fellow and to be honest, I’m not sure he’ll come back to soccer anymore — he hates it that badly. Still, for those ten minutes, for the first time and the only time in the last 36 years, all the agony, all the anger, and all the pent-up angst FINALLY seemed to have a purpose. I have no idea why I would have to endure all I’ve endured since Mama and Daddy divorced so long ago. It seems as though any chance at being happy drove away in that sky blue truck.

Hang tough, little bro, hang tough.

BUT, for ten minutes, all that misery allowed me to DIRECTLY connect with a little boy who is just setting out on the path I’ve walked for as long as I have clear memories. It is a lonely path and a dark path and when I started my journey, I didn’t know of anyone walking ahead or behind. Maybe THIS little act; this ten minutes of absolute understanding of another human being. Maybe I went through it all for just such a time. I didn’t have a guide, but at least for Tru I could call back across the years to say, “It’s hard, but you can make it. It’s a sad time, but it’ll get better, kid, you just have to keep walking. Keep on walking.”

For such a time as this.

Sorry for such a long piece. I try to keep them under 1000 words, but I got carried away on this one. Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Onward and Upward: The Joy of Herding Cats

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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!