You’ll Be Back

It’s 3:00 AM and I’m staring at the ceiling. Again. Too much stuff is going to happen in the next couple of days. New proposals to write, demos to give, and a flight to Orlando for a new project. Crazy.

But that’s not what’s keeping me awake. Nope. It’s the soccer game my son played on Sunday. It’s one moment in particular, that keeps playing in my head. The ball is bouncing near our goal. Our keeper, Ernie, moves for the ball – he’s going to block it. The opponent jumps for the ball anyway, but it’s too high. He shouldn’t go for it, but he does and he kicks my goal keeper square in the chest. Ernie crumbles to the ground in pain. I run onto the field.

Ernie is a great kid. He has short brown hair and bronzed skin. He’s a little tall for his age, but his face is still round and young-looking. Ernie is interesting because he feels safest inside the keeper’s box. He feels in control there and he knows what to do. But, now he’s on the ground, curled into a ball. When I get to his side, I talk him through it. It was a nasty kick, but luckily, Ernie’s not hurt that bad. But, now that he’s down, he doesn’t want to get up. Everyone’s watching and he doesn’t want them to see his face. He’s only 13.

What the heck was that other boy thinking? A kick like that is dangerous and totally illegal! ‘Don’t kick my keeper!’ I scolded. The ref should throw a red card. Give a warning at least! I was pretty angry – unusually so. And as I’m walking Ernie off the field, it hits me. Wow! I already have strong feelings for this kid.

But why? I’ve only known these boys a few weeks and I’m not even their actual coach. Well, not really. I mean, it’s just the winter league. It’s just a handful of games between fall and spring, just for fun. And, I’m just helping out. Temporarily.

Back It Up

Wait a minute. I haven’t gotten enough sleep and I’m not making sense. Let’s back this story up, all the way to summertime, when my son signed up for fall soccer. My son was too old to stay in the league he was in. He had to move on to the next league – U14! But most of his friends were younger and didn’t have to move on. So, they stayed back. I had been coaching his team for years, but now it was splitting up. I was sad.

But I was also relieved. If they weren’t moving on, then I wouldn’t have to coach! I could take a year off. I’d have more time for my family and more time to put into Gigi. And since my son was going to be in a whole different league, he’d probably get a great coach.

I was wrong. Apparently, the coach my son was supposed to get moved away. And nobody else stepped up to the plate. So Matt, the manager of the soccer league, looked around for a while, and eventually got some college player to step in as coach. It was a recipe for disaster right from the beginning. By the end of the season, the college guy was barely showing up for games. When it was over, he promptly quit. This team was full of good kids, including my son, and they deserved a good coach. But they didn’t get one.

Are You With Me Now?

Have you ever read the Hobbit? It’s a coming of age story about Bilbo Baggins: a young man who finds himself on an unexpected and dangerous journey. All Bilbo wants is to stay in the safety of his little home in the Shire, but life has something else in store. Later in the story, Bilbo finds himself alone in a haunted forest. He is surrounded by total darkness and he is terribly afraid. All of his friends have been captured by creatures and he is the only one left to save them. It’s his pivotal moment – the moment when Bilbo finds courage and becomes a man. Or, rather, a Hobbit.

Well, kids have pivotal moments too. And as coach, I help them prepare. Teenage boys love to put on a brave face for the world. But, just like Bilbo, most are hoping to stay in their comfort zones, where they are safe. Ernie doesn’t like me to put him anywhere but in the goalie box, because he feels safe. But the goalie box wasn’t safe. Life isn’t safe either.

And now I’ve come full circle. I decided not to coach this fall. It was the right thing to do. But as I’m walking Ernie off the field, I realize just how much I miss it.

It reminds me of a conversation I had at the end of the spring season. It was officially my last game as a coach. Matt, the manager of the soccer league, comes over and shakes my hand. He thanks me for my efforts and we talk a bit. He wishes me well, but right at the end, he gets this odd grin and gives the tiniest chuckle. The last thing he says is, ‘You’ll be back.’

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