This weekend, Amelia’s soccer league started back up and we were all excited to return to the field…Amelia as a player and myself as a coach. Amelia has been playing in the same league for about three years now, and playing with a core of kids she’s been on teams with since the beginning. It’s such a great program that really emphasizes positivity and sportsmanship and as a family we’ve really gotten into going to the practices and games each week.

For Amelia, when she started I honestly wondered if it might be something she would try for a little while and would lose interest in. Amelia is generally a very outgoing and extroverted girl (check out her web series, Thursday Thoughts s0metime), and had participated in things like dance and music in the past, but getting out in physical sports is something else. I remember her first few games, she was a little timid and held herself back getting up to the ball. Her coach would joke with us that she is just so polite and sweet, it was like she wanted to ask an opponent nicely before stealing the ball.

As each season has gone on, Amelia has gained more confidence, gets more and more involved in the game and has made some really good friends on the team. We’ve gotten to be part of this with such amazing kids and their parents, and it’s been so fun to watch them all grow together.

Each year there are basically three seasons, spring, summer and fall. For all but two of those, we’ve had the same coach, Coach Carlos, who has really done so much to make this a great experience for the kids. Like Ted Lasso, he came into coaching in this league not knowing much about soccer, and also like Ted Lasso, he is just infectiously positive and a delight to be around. He dove into the sport, and has done a fantastic job teaching fundamentals to the kids. More than anything, he has made it fun for kids and parents alike.

From the beginning, what inspired me most was watching the kids play through some tough games. I remember one where the opponent was a team that had been together for years and were a kids soccer juggernaut. I think the score was around 10-0 at halftime. But I remember those kids going back out after the half, laughing, kidding around and encouraging each other, and they played with just as much enthusiasm as they would have if they were up by 10. Yeah, the score didn’t go our way, but being able to keep playing and giving your best even when things are down, and having a good attitude in win or loss is an invaluable life skill. We could all use a Coach Carlos in our lives.

Last year, Coach’s niece moved up an age level so we had a couple seasons where about half of our core group had a different coach. Last spring, one of the moms took the job, but they left the program afterward, leaving an opening for summer. So inspired by Coach Carlos, and facing down my own fears and insecurities about doing anything related to sports, I stepped up and became Coach Dad.

Anyone who has known me for any period of time would probably say that hearing that I am coaching kids sports would have been about as likely as learning I am actually from the planet Krypton and imbued with powers beyond those of mortal men. If I could go back in time and tell my child self a few things about his future, and if that list included:

  • That I would someday have an embarrassing appearance on an Australian game show,
  • That I would write and publish a book (get your copy of Fencebat now!),
  • That I would enjoy not only eating, but also COOKING brussels sprouts,
  • And that I would be involved in coaching sports of any kind…

…Without question, younger me would be most doubtful of the coaching thing. I was not a sporty kid. AT ALL. I never played in any sports, and in fact sports made me feel generally uncomfortable because I felt like a dorky clumsy kid who was no good at things like that. Not only was I the last one picked, I was usually the kid who was hoping not to get picked at all.

This is part of the reason I was so proud of Amelia for going out there and playing, because I admired her confidence and willingness to take a chance on trying something. So at this moment when the team needed a coach, I figured I should take a cue from my daughter and take a chance on something myself.

I have to say coaching has been one of the most rewarding experiences I can think of. First of all, getting to coach my daughter and her friends was just fun on its face. Sure, it was challenging sometimes trying to learn the practice drills and communicate them to a bunch of rambunctious 7- and 8-year-olds, but my goodness I was blessed with the best bunch of kids that season. Each had their own skills and quirks, and I loved being out there laughing with them, encouraging them, and cheering them on as individuals, and as a team.

I am proud to say that thanks ENTIRELY to the effort and awesomeness of the kids last summer, we actually had an undeafeated season. We even managed a tie during a game against a tough team on an afternoon when it was 100 degrees and we didn’t have enough kids for substitutions. One of the things I was super proud about in that game was the way the kids would each step up and advocate for themselves when they needed water or a break. We all looked out for each other and I was so proud the kids both kept themselves safe and got through the game.

Following that season, most of the group aged up and we got to reuinte with Coach Carlos. I loved coaching so much, I decided to continue on as his co-coach, and we are now just starting our second season working together. This weekend was our first game and it was a great mix of some kids we know and many we don’t. I can already see that we have another really fantastic group of individuals, and I look forward to being out there with them each week.

In the first game, the kids played great. We could see their passing and ball control skills really improve. Amelia has become an ace on defense and did a fantastic job keeping her zone protected. The scoreboard did deal us a loss in week one, but like before, you can barely tell by the enthusiasm and positivity of the kids on the team. Everyone was just excited to be playing, proud to have put it all on the field, and looking forward to next week’s game.

It’s funny, I’ve written about sports and youth sport programs for magazines, and have always known from on a theoretical level the value of team sports and other activities for kids. In my experience growing up, I mostly got involved with arts programs like band and theater, and at that time kind of saw sports as somehow not in line with those things. Now experiencing both for my daughter and myself, I see things in a very different way. Amelia is involved in both music and soccer, and I know she loves and gets benefit out of both.

Absolutely, being in this program has grown her confidence and taught her so much about the value of staying positive and putting forth your best effort, win or lose. Being on this team is also about encouraing both teammates and opponents and sharing in the success of others. It’s about being inclusive and playing alongside kids of all different backgrounds and personalities.

Our teams have had many names. Her first team was the Sounders, then we were the Miners for a while, and a few other things along the way. This year our team is the Stars, and in week one I think the kids certainly showed that they are that.