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The Worst Soccer Mom to “Call Me Coach”

Warming up at little league soccer. Image: Lukas Goumbik

I volunteered to coach youth league soccer this fall. Before you get all impressed, let me assure you that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. 

I signed up thinking my husband would be the actual coach, but practice schedules, field availability and other forces have so far derailed my covert mission. And so, I am the one the children will call “Coach Wells.” 

What on earth was I thinking?

Normally, you’d spy me on the sidelines screaming, “Get him! Get it! Get him! Get it! You got it! Woooooo!” or, for variety’s sake, “Get it! Kick it! Kick it! Kick it! You kicked it! Woooooo!”

I did not “sport” when I was in high school. I sported for a while when I was younger, though; I played softball until third grade. I took clogging lessons (It’s like tap dancing, only clackier; also, be quiet, it’s nearly a sport). I was on the junior high volleyball team. 

After that, sports were what wrapped around the marching band half-time show, which was the only performance I cared about. And man, did I lean hard in that direction, choosing all of the geeky hobbies, from school webmaster to literary journal editor and everything in between.

I’ve come a long way since high school, although I still geek out on websites and literary journals. I went ahead and married an athlete… okay, not just an athlete, a high school athletic director, who coached three sports and played any of them whenever he had the opportunity, who also refereed all the sports. He was Captain Sportspants. And as his girlfriend and then wife, I did what I was best at: I spectated.

“Get him! Get it! Get him! Get it! You got it! Woooooo!”

Fast forward 18 years. At this stage of the game, we have three children who are an equilateral triangle apart in interests. My daughter golfs and plays in the marching band (woo!). My middle son loves computer games (woo!) and show choir. And my youngest is big into nature (woo!) and soccer. They’ve tried on different activities throughout the years, from baseball to soccer to basketball to gymnastics to theatrics to Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts to archery. They are now at the age where they’ve each sort of settled into their interests, making it trickier to have them try something new.

Once we’ve found the things we’re really good at, it’s hard to break out of our comfort zone.

I’m great at these things. Why would you force me to do something I’m not as good at?

Several years ago, I attended my middle son’s soccer practice. He was 4. My daughter was 5. My youngest son was probably four months old. My husband was out of town. We forgot about shin guards (do they go on the outside of the sock or in?!), we forgot a water bottle, and we were ten minutes late (who sets practice at 5:30?). There were approximately 800,000 children on the field and I didn’t know what my son’s coach looked like. I hollered, “Does anyone know where team Aber’s Towing is practicing?” and all of the well organized and disciplined parents who reclined in their folding chairs and arrived on time with their kids’ water bottles just shook their heads. My heels sunk into the dirt. My infant son arched his back in the stroller. And my middle son, the one whose practice we were supposed to be at, started sobbing on the sideline.

I do not like when I don’t have my act together, and I did not have my act together during that time of my life.

I was my high school’s webmaster not a soccer mom, for goodness sake!

I played the clarinet, not forward or backward or defender or goalie or primary kicking person. How was I supposed to know what I was doing? I wanted desperately to keep up appearances and pretend that I was the best soccer mom, when in fact I was the worst soccer mom. 

All it would have taken was admitting this one truth: “I’m new at this. I need some help,” and someone would have helped me feel less like a dolt.

There’s this beautiful verse in Isaiah 43:19 in which God tells the nation of Israel, “​​See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” New things bring new life to us. They have a way of stretching, shaping, and molding us, like water flowing over and through sand, making a way forward and making us appreciate the great complexity and diversity of humanity. Simultaneously, there is Jesus who keeps encouraging us to encourage one another, love one another, and care for one another.

Image: Lars Bo Neilson

Sometimes, caring for someone else requires sacrifice. In my case, the sacrifice is humility. I admit, parents, that I have very little idea what I am doing. But, I will do my best to learn the game, help our kids grow, and encourage them to have fun.

So, here we are. The youth league soccer season has begun, and at 39 I’m trying on something new. I’m blowing a whistle. I’m setting up cones. I’m reviewing my husband’s instructions about encouraging the boys and learning their names and making it fun and keeping them moving, and I’m watching YouTube clips of what it means to “dribble” and “juggle” a soccer ball. Before the games begin in two weeks, I have big plans to learn the names of all of the positions and assign boys to those positions. I might even set up a rotation (woo!).
For this one season, at least, I will shelve my spectating tactics (“Get him! Get it! Get him! Get it! You got it!”) along with my pride and my folding chair, and do a new thing.

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