I'm coaching my 8 year old daughters soccer team this season.
The team has been the same group of girls for 3 years, with the same head coach. Every season they have a different assistant coach. I hadn't considered how the team was alway able to find a parent to volunteer to help out at the last minute. If I had considered it, I might have seen what was coming.
At the first practice a gaggle of mothers conspired to blindside me..." you're athletic"..."the girls would appreciate it"...and " if you coach you don't have to bring a snack for the games "...and the next think I knew I had a whistle and clipboard.
It's all worked out for the best as I'm having a great time. The team is good, the head coach is a good guy, and it's given me some extra time with my daughter.
Hot Gril's role with the team is as their best scorer. She's not their best player, maybe not even in the top two, but by far she's always been the biggest kid and fastest one on the field. I've always felt that fact has hindered her skill development. Rather than have to learn how to control the ball or watch the rest of the field, she just kicks the ball as far away from all the other players as possible, then outruns everyone, goes the full length of the field and kicks the ball into the goal.
All that is about to change.
At the first practice this year, the coach introduced the team to their newest player. This girl who we'll refer to as New Gril is a little bit taller, a little bit faster, and just maybe a little, dare I say it, a little bit prettier than Hot Gril. All of this has not gone unnoticed and none of this is going down well in the Flick household.
On the drive home from the second practice Hot Gril asked, " Do you think New Gril is faster than me ?"
Now this gets a little touchy for a father so I went diplomatic, " Hmmm, I think it's pretty close."
" Well I think she's faster than me.", apparently 8 year old girls already know that 'diplomatic' is code for 'full of shit'.
I felt like this was one of those moments that you see in a bad Disney movie or a McDonald's commercial and that I needed to step it up into Daddy overdrive. " If she is a faster, it's only by a little little bit, but that's no big deal. All it's going to take is a little extra practice. I'll take you out and practice some more if you'd like.
" Really ?", she sounded a bit more hopeful. Maybe I'm getting better at this parenting stuff.
" Yeah," I continued, " That and you have to start playing with confidence."
" Con-fi-dence ? What's that", she asked puzzled.
" Confidence....hmmm....ok, this of it this way. Lets say you and someone who is just as fast as you...you're both totally equal....and you're both going for the ball. Who is going to be the first one to get there ? The first one to get there is going to be the one who really wants it the most and tries the hardest. The person who is going to get that ball is the person who believes the most that they're going to get that ball and nothing is going to stop them....that's confidence."
" Hmmmmmm", she mulled that over for a while, " confidence."
And that pretty much was the end of that conversation.
Next Monday brought a cold overcast evening and we put the girls through their drills and exercises for the first 15 minutes of practice. Finally the head coach said, " It's too cold, lets just have them scrimmage so they can stay warm."
He got out the pinnies and started handing them out as 10 hands shot into the air. Hot Gril being the tallest ( well now second tallest) grabbed the first pinnie. New Gril also started to grab a pinnie, saw that my daughter had one, and let go. She looked a Hot Gril, looked at the head coach and said, " I don't want a pinnie, I want to be on the other team." She then walked over the the left wing and set up directly across from Hot Gril.
Now as a father, the whole thing had me nervous. It breaks my heart to see any of my children sad. But in the case of Hot Gril, seeing her distraught about anything doesn't break my heart, it smashes it, grinds it up into little pieces, and tosses it into the wind. The last thing I think I could take would be to see her spirit broken.
That being said, as a sports fan, this was shaping up to be really cool !
The game began and it quickly became apparent that New Gril was a cut above. It appeared that she probably hadn't ever played organized soccer before because she lacked some of the fundamentals, but she was a natural athlete and beautiful to watch.
For those of you who have never seen little kids play, you'd be shocked at what age that natural physical ability begins to show itself. I'm constantly amazed at what I see 7 and 8 year old kids do on a field. There is a kinestetic awareness that comes natural to some people and this girl has it. She knows where she is in relationship to the other players on the field at all times and she has the physical skills and size to force herself to where she needs to be. The only limiting factor, and this is inherant to soccer, is that most of the other kids are spazzing and flailing at the ball so much that regardless of what skills you possess, that most of the time, the ball is just bouncing around in a giant herd of kids.
Finally after a good ten minutes of playing, the inevitable happened. Out of the sea of legs and ponytails, the ball popped loose and shot to vacant side of the field. Immediately two figures shot out of the pack.
Hot Gril and New Gril popped out of the scrum like two thoroughbreds coming out of the gate at Churchhill Downs. Side by side they sprinted, knees kicking, arms pumping, neither one giving up an inch. The rest of the game sort of paused in time as we all became spectators to something that had very little to do with soccer.
As they got close to the ball New Gril's instincts started to kick in. My heart starting to sink as I anticipated what was coming next. Sure enough, New Gril's arm came out and she stuck he forearm into my daughter and started to lean into her for position. They continued at full speed, but steadily, and as surely the lump that started to form in my throat, she started steering my daughter away from the ball.
Just as I started to give up hope, something unexpected happened. Hot Gril suddenly stood up a little taller. Hot Gril lifted her right arm up under New Gril's elbow and into her ribs. And Hot Gril...no, not Hot Gril...MY DAUGHTER started leaning back !
They hit the ball at the same time in a furious collision of cleats and flesh. Call it what you will....fate...devine intervention...a forearm to the ribs....whatever ...but New Gril lost her balance and went ass-over-tea kettle, smashing to the ground. To her credit as a warrior, the girl never gave up the ghost. As she went rolling and skidding across the ground she never stopped kicking and trying to steal the ball away...I mean this girl is a killer. But on this day, on this time, it wasn't going to be enough. Hot Gril was gone. She took the ball the rest of the way down the field and as if to put an exclaimation point on the end of a beautiful sentence, blasted a shot past the goaltender and into the back of the net.
The rest of us trotted up to that end of the field and by the time we got there both girls were heading back toward us and both had huge smiles on their faces. Their paths met on the way back to midfield and as the coach dismissed everyone to go get a drink the girls gave each other a hug. The other teams in the league have no idea what they're in for.
I tried to stay cool and stuck out my hand for a high five as my daughter trotted past on her way to get her water bottle. " Good job out there" was about the best I could muster without embarassing both of us.
She reached up and gave me a little slap. With a broad smile and twinkle to her eyes said one word as she jogged by,