Posted tagged ‘soccer’

Talking Soccer With American Football Dads

September 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 9, 2017

                      

Even though I’ve coached middle school football for thirteen years my family is a soccer family. I’m a soccer dad. All three of our kids played soccer through high school- our son was a part of one undefeated state championship team and a member of the state runner-up team the year before that. Our two son-in-laws play soccer. Their wives (our daughters) still play on indoor teams and an occasional outdoor team. Our two oldest grandchildren play soccer. I took up the game later on and played in an “older than dirt” league for men. I coached two of my kids’ teams when they were younger.

So, as you can tell, we’re a soccer family!

With the growing concerns about concussions in football I’m seeing more kids start with soccer and stay with soccer. In our nine year old grandson’s soccer program the boys aren’t allowed to do headers yet. That doesn’t become legal for another year.

What amuses me are the number of football dads who now frequent soccer fields but don’t quite understand the game yet. They bring football terminology and football philosophy to another sport that is more about finesse than brutal power, more about speed and touch than holding a block and running over someone.

And a lot of the dads are having a hard time making that transition from what was to what is! My high school in Ironton, Ohio was, and is, a football town. Kids start playing just after they’re conceived. Our high school teams became dominant in the 70’s and 80’s. Ironton High School still does not have a soccer team. You have to enroll your child as a student at Ironton St. Joseph if you want him to kick a round ball.

But Ironton is the exception, the one who has been slow coming to the dance! They have been resistant to the transition from what was to what is. To change would mean learning a whole new sports language.

Football dads still bring the mindset that any kick or punt needs to be launched into space, the longer the better! You’ll hear a football dad yelling “Kick it! Kick it!”, and then shouting in celebration when the soccer ball is booted down the field…even though it’s kicked to someone from the other team. With football dads distance is over-valued.

Ironton usually used a tight offensive formation. Power football over the guards. Soccer is about spacing and anticipation, weird concepts for an Ohio culture that grew up with the Woody Hayes’ philosophy of “three yards and a cloud of dust”!

At our six year old granddaughter’s soccer game this morning I heard a couple of dads talking about game situations. One had been a soccer dad for about a year and the other was making his rookie dad debut at a soccer field. Several times I heard the soccer dad begin a statement with the words “That means…”, and then explain the unfamiliar concepts to this new parent in a foreign land.

To be fair, Americans football is still more ingrained in our culture than soccer. No one gets together at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fantasy Soccer Draft Night, but BWW sells a lot of wings to people who gather there for Fantasy Football Draft Night. In fact, they even have a draft kit for each fantasy league commissioner. Yesterday at the middle school where I coach it was “Favorite Team Day”. Students could wear the hat or jersey of their favorite team. I think I saw about…two soccer jerseys, both of teams in the English Premier League, and about a gazillion professional football jerseys!

Football is ingrained in us and, therefore, I expect to hear more statements at the soccer fields in the coming week like “That was out of the end zone!” and “Why aren’t they huddling?”

You’ve just got to be patient sometimes and bring some football dads along slowly.

My Three Year Old World

September 15, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 15, 2014

                                     

I’ve noticed something a little strange! A growing percentage of my life is being spent with three year olds. As I’ve mentioned in recent writings, I’m coaching a soccer team of three year olds. And now…this past Sunday I began co-teaching a Sunday School class mostly of three year olds.

About twenty-five years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I’m thinking of a revision, without Fulghum’s permission, entitled “Most Of What I Know Now Was Learned From Three Year Olds.” I may have to shorten the title, but the thought resonates with me.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve discovered from three year olds.

What you say…they take literally! My granddaughter was playing goalie in our soccer game on Saturday for one of the quarters. Coach Tony who helps us told her that when the ball came towards her she was to jump on it.

She did exactly what he said! When the ball came towards her she jumped on it…with her feet. Jumping to her means jumping up in the air and landing back on your feet again. So…she tried to land on top of the ball with her feet, but her timing was off…so, in essence, she jumped up just in time for the ball to pass under her and into the goal.

Three year olds take things literally. It’s also why you can talk about polka-dotted ponies and whispering caterpillars with them and they believe. Perhaps that’s why Jesus talked to his followers about having a child-like faith. Faith requires that you take God at his word! Thirty-three year olds aren’t as good at that. Neither are sixty-three year olds. Too much skepticism has been spoken into our lives at those points.

Here’s something else I’ve learned from three year olds! What is important isn’t really what’s important! I had a schedule for Sunday School class this past Sunday. I had a lesson plan. I had times attached to each part of the lesson. Half of the plan got accomplished. None of the students got upset at missing out on “Activity #4”. What was important to them was Goldfish crackers, singing “Jesus Loves Me” accompanied by a classroom full of percussionists, and coloring a picture of a school bus to take home with them. Likewise, three year old soccer players don’t keep score. They giggle, look at airplanes flying overhead, and play with the assurance that their will be a snack time after the final whistle. What is important to them is having a coach that will give them a high five, pick them up when they fall down, and help them tie their shoes. Simple things. Uncomplicated things like Jesus loves them this they know…for the Bible tells them so!

One more thing they’ve taught me…so far! Play is just as important as work! The soccer field we run around on is right next to a playground with swings, a slide, and monkey bars. Several times so far I’ve had players take a soccer break and meander over to the slide. Their soccer “responsibilities” can wait, even though their coach is sensing “they aren’t taking this seriously!” Their lives will be filled with work soon enough, and at that point they will wonder why their playtime had to decrease and, for some, disappear.

Teaching a three year old Sunday School class requires being able to still play some. It requires getting down on the carpet even though you’re not sure how quickly you’ll be able to get back up again.

As I tell the high school basketball players I coach, the game is played closer to the floor than in the air. Three year olds prove that…especially the playing part!

 

Coaching Three Year Old Spiders

September 6, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 6, 2014

                                 

This morning at way too early…with wet grass glistening…nine three year olds arrived at the soccer field, accompanied by parents holding cups of Starbucks coffee, for our second practice and first game.

Thirty minutes of practice followed by thirty minutes of a “game.” To call it a game would be similar to calling the school custodian a maintenance bio-engineer- there is some element of truth hidden deep within the title.

Coach Carol- also known as Mrs. Carol Wolfe- bought a balloon to take to the game with Spiderman on it. We tied it to one of the goals to help our confused three’s know which was our goal. It also helped us figure out our team name: Spiders! One young guy who had worn a Spiderman jacket the first week was totally excited about that being our name. Plus, I wasn’t really too enamored by the suggestions from last week: Butterflies, Butterfingers, Pink Toes, and Pizza Hut!

In our short practice we worked on kicking the ball hard. Some are still not comfortable with such violence. I assured them that they could not “bully” their soccer ball. They looked unconvinced!

We welcomed four new kids who missed the first week. One of them ran around most of the time pretending to be an airplane.  Another was so scared she never left her mom’s side. “Playing time” is not a big concern of hers right now, unless you’re talking about the swing set.

Right as we had herded the spiders to the correct side of the field to start our game two of our players needed a drink of water. The “airplane” player was coming in for a landing…on the next field over!

The game started and we kicked the ball…not necessarily in the right direction, but we kicked it. One of our girls runs like a horse- not a thoroughbred, mind you! A prancing play pony on two legs. One little girl fell and ran to Mommy. One little boy kept asking when snack-time was going to be. Another little boy was contesting the soccer ball one time with a boy from the other team. “Winning the ball” had not been clearly defined to him. He did a two-hand shove of the opposing three-year old and took the ball away. An opposing player picked up the ball one time and started heading towards the parking lot.

And then it was over! All survived and all got the much-anticipated snacks of the morning. I asked the Spiders what they had learned that day: Kick the ball at Spider-Man, kick the ball hard, and stop being so cute (Just kidding)!

Kids left with smiles on their faces, parents checked iPhone photos taken, and Coach Carol and Coach Bill started thinking about nap-time!

 

Coaching Players 57 Years Younger Than Me!”

September 2, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      September 1, 2014

                       

I entered a new phase of my coaching career this past Saturday. I had the first soccer practice with a new team of three year olds!

Three year olds! A three year old has been alive five percent of my life!

Why three year olds? My granddaughter is on the team…her first team experience ever…so Granddad and Grammy are the coaches.

The practice did not involve soccer ball juggling or players getting to open space, as we say. There was no instruction on defending or setting off-sides traps. No…the practice included asking each player what their favorite lunch food items were.

“Macaroni and cheese!”

“Pepperoni pizza!”

“Peanut butter and jelly!”

Notice I put exclamation marks after each favorite lunch. That’s because each was said with enthusiasm…especially my granddaughter’s pepperoni pizza.

We transitioned to stretching.

“Okay! See if you can touch your toes without bending your knees (I can’t!).”  One three year old boy fell over and concluded that stretching was not his strong point. He looked with a pained facial expression at his mom and dad. A couple of the girls thought stretching was fun.

“Okay! Let’s take our soccer balls and put them between our feet.” Two kids with limited coordination fell down just taking steps. Two others put the soccer ball between their feet and sat on them. It’s about at this time that I decided it would be good to get a water break. We had been hard at it for almost five minutes.

I crossed off the slide tackling drill we were going to do!

“Okay! Let’s learn how to dribble. Everybody look down at your soccer ball and say “Hi!”

They all thought that was cool…talking to soccer balls was now on the same level of excitement as favorite lunch choices.

“Now, let’s use the inside of our foot and kick the ball all the way to the white line.”

Ever seen one of those crawling baby races where the babies are released and they head in a dozen different directions? Our first attempt at dribbling a soccer ball was like that. It brought back memories of my old electric football game when I was growing up that no one ever figured out. How was a tackle ever made in electric football? It wasn’t!

Water break!

“Okay! Say hello to your soccer ball again, and let’s go take shots on the goal!”

One thing I learned about three year olds is that they are scared that they will hurt their precious soccer ball. One of the girls had Barbie or some pink character on hers, and now I’m telling them to kick it hard!

Dainty and gentle would be better descriptions of our foot to ball contact at the first practice.

Water break!

A couple of the boys were reaching the end of their attention span. They spotted the swings and slide in the back of the park. I lost them!

In all, I think we had a good thirty-five minutes of practice. Take away the favorite lunch conversation, water breaks, and getting to know their soccer ball on a casual conservation basis…okay, maybe twenty minutes, but it was a hard twenty!

And I was exhausted!

 

     

Experiencing Grace On the Way To See Grace

April 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 28, 2013

My first words were actually “Oh, crap!”

The flashing lights came on as the Highway Patrol car was approaching me going the other direction. I was heading to my great niece Gracie’s soccer game.

On my way to see Grace!”

I pulled over to the side of the river road and waited. The Highway Patrol female trooper came up to my passenger side window. I already had my driver’s license in my hand ready to grovel and look financially destitute.

Did you see those wild turkeys heading up the hillside there?”

Huh? I was expecting “License and registration please.”

No, I didn’t see them.”

Yes, several of them”, she added, turning towards the roadside slope to our right. I glanced up the hill and caught sight of the bird moving higher.

Got an idea of the speed limit on this stretch of road?”

Here it comes.

Yes. It’s fifty-five, and I believe I was doing sixty-five.”

True confession is good for the soul. For some reason it made my sin seem more plausible, more normal.

Sixty-seven.”

Oh!”

Do you have many problems with speeding?”

No,” I thought, “it comes natural.” Instead of saying that however I started in on the disclaimers.

Not usually, but I’m driving my dad’s Buick that has a little more get-up-and-go than my car.”

What do you drive?”

A Civic.”

Oh!”

And then I added “Hybrid!” to further explain my unfamiliarity with a vehicle that actually has engine power.

Colorado. I’ve got a brother that lives in Colorado.”

Really! Where at?” This speeding violation is taking an interesting turn in the conversation.

West of Colorado Springs. He says he can step out his front door and see Pike’s Peak.”

Woodland Park?”

I believe that’s it!”

I’m thinking, “Will this take $25 off my traffic ticket?”

He says half of the time that people get stopped there is because the law enforcement is looking for marijuana…with the whole legalized thing going on.”

Yes, ma’am!”I reply as I shake my head in a kind of “what’s the world coming to” kind of expression.

Do you have any relatives in Wheelersburg?” she asked as she surveyed my driver’s license.

No, ma’am! However, I did grow up in Ironton!”So some reason I thought creating ties with my growing up roots would cancel out my excessive speeding to get to a fourth grade girl’s soccer game.

Well…Mr. Wolfe, I’m going to give you a warning about your speed today. You need to be careful and go a little bit slower. Okay?”

I agree. I’ll make sure I’m more careful.”

She took my license and my Dad’s registration back to the cruiser and ran a check on them to make sure I wasn’t a convicted runaway felon on the lam. I waited, knowing that I was, as my grandfather used to say, “Guilty as sin!” Regardless of the power of my Dad’s car, or the justification that driving to my great niece’s soccer game should cancel out breaking the law, or even though I had been in church last Sunday (I had to be. I was giving the sermon!), a blazing pink speeding ticket should have been the rightful ending of the situation.

Mr. Wolfe, I hope the rest of your visit goes well.”

Thank you.”

I can’t believe those wild turkeys. You take care now.”

Thank God for wild turkeys to break the ice in conversation starters between grace-givers and law-breakers.

I slowly made my way to Gracie’s soccer game. I watched her with new eyes, not focused on her missed kicks, or other evidences of not achieving soccer perfection as a ten year old, but rather I focused on the fun she was experiencing playing a game and laughing with her teammates. As some of the adults watching shouted their disappointment in the mistakes of their sons and daughters who were playing on the field, my vision was on a Grace who was giggling. Perhaps I was able to see the upside of her soccer skills a little bit more because I had just experienced grace when I was on the downside.

On the way back to Dad’s place I watched my speedometer…and also saw the wild turkeys.

Playing Big With Little People

April 15, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 15, 2012

Saturday morning I was at the soccer game that the daughter of my nephew was playing in. She’s in third grade, which translated means that most of the parents there had cups of Starbucks coffee in their hands, or coffee staying hot in a thermos. (I waited until after the game to go to Starbucks! Willpower!)

Gracie had a great time playing, as did all of the kids. No one had told them yet that “This is serious business…so wipe that smile off your face!”

Meanwhile, something else caught my attention. On the field right behind us a game involving four year old’s was taking place. One of the coaches was an African-American man who was so big he looked by a tree house that the kids could climb on. I’m guessing…and I believe I’m quite accurate on this one…that he played football. He was so big that he could have played Right Guard…and Left Guard …on the same play.

And he was having a ball! And because he was having a ball the players on both teams were having a ball! One time I looked over and he was dangling a young boy upside down. I’m not even sure it was a player on his own team, but the boy was laughing and in a moment of “life delight!”

The coach congratulated and high-fived players on both teams. He helped little girls who tripped back on their feet. He shouted encouragement.

He played big with the little people. He inspired me!

As a coach I get the tremendous privilege of influencing young people, helping them improve their skills, learn from their mistakes, mentor them in life lessons through the lens of a game. I fan the flame of their passion for the game, while not losing sight of their youthfulness.

Although I’m not as big as the soccer coach of the four year old’s, in some ways I get to play big with the little people. I get to guide them in having fun.

In the youth sports culture we’ve lost most of that.

Like the coach who has his sixth grade girls’ basketball team press their opponents full-court even though they are up by thirty at the start of the fourth quarter.

Or the coach who plays his main group and then when, because of a mandatory league rule, he puts the last kid on the bench in to pinch hit, he commands him not to swing at any pitch because the player never makes contact. He robs him of the sound of a baseball meeting wood, because he’s short-sighted.

Or the coach who had no success as an athlete growing up, so he’s going to win at any cost with the youth team he’s coaching now.

Or the two coaches who get into a fight after the game in front of their players, who all stand there with mouths wide open in shock.

The list could go on for pages. Somewhere and at sometime we lost the thrill and sheer joy of playing big with the little people.

The joy of playing children is a sign of the blessing of God upon Jerusalem in the Old Testament book of Zechariah (chapter 8). In The Message paraphrase of Zechariah 8:4 it says, “And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing- a good city to grow up in.”

I love that! I pray that we regain that scene.

I hope I run into “the man child” again at the next soccer outing. I’m going to tell him how he inspired me, how he brought a smile to my face, how his “playing big” brought a little glimpse of God’s delight!