Four years ago I was just getting settled into our new home. I was relaxing on a weekend in the living room watching an event that at one time held my every sliver of attention. This year however, it was a different story. This time I was merely passing time, barely engaged. The event was the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The match was US vs. Brazil. The stakes were a berth in the semi-finals.
Having been a coach for most of the previous twenty-two years, I was at the time quite happy to not be. I had said goodbye to the RedHots a couple of years prior. I was also not much of a fan, either. The 2010 Men’s World Cup had grabbed my attention for a bit when Landon Donovan struck the goal heard ‘round the world. But it fizzled soon after when my favorite Italian side had failed to get out of their group. My passion was a shadow of its earlier self. You get the idea. My wife, then girlfriend, was sitting in the bedroom most likely facebooking, or pinteresting. Each of us enjoying the silence of a summer afternoon.
I picked up the match around halftime with the US leading 1-0. Not long into the second half the US received a red card that I didn’t really agree with. I remember not being all that impressed with the team. They didn’t seem all that creative, or all that entertaining to me. Hope Solo made the save on the ensuing penalty kick only to have the save nullified by another curious call of encroachment. Marta took the second attempt and scored. 1-1.
The red card had an effect. As is often the case the team that is playing short begins to play better and more controlled. I had been doing my usual couch coaching and finding all the ways I thought they were terrible. But it changed slowly. More skill. More creativity. The matched ended full time at the 1-1 scoreline. By now I was sitting up on the couch and somewhat into it.
Marta scored a brilliant goal in the first half of extra time, and all I could think was how this was going to be the earliest exit for a US Women’s team at a World Cup. Wasn’t looking good. Time was ticking, and they were rapidly running out of ideas.
But drama is what makes sports amazing, isn’t it? Boy did we get some. Late in the second half of extra time, really late. No, really, really late. Like so late that had a Brazilian player not faked injury this match would’ve been done, the teams back at their hotels and the US fans on planes headed back home, it happened. Rapinoe to Wambach. The second US goal heard ’round the world, every bit as dramatic as Donovan’s.
When the ball left Rapinoe’s foot I looked across the screen and could see Wambach unmarked on the back post. I knew. Everyone in the stadium had to have known, too. She wasn’t missing that. I was already coming off the couch when her head made contact. The ball bulged the onion bag (I probably owe Tommy Smyth a buck for that one). I went running through the house yelling and screaming like it was 2006 all over again when the Italians emerged victoriously in Germany.
Paula comes running out of the bedroom and yells, “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
“I’m back!”, I replied, winded from the run. Clearly I hadn’t done much physical activity during that time.
“Umm back from where??”
I just shook my head and giggled. She had no idea. How could she? I was only half engaged with the Red Hots when we started dating. She thought it was cute that I worked with kids occasionally teaching a game she had no real knowledge of. She had never really experienced the passion that I’m capable of when it comes to teaching or watching this sport. Crash course, table for one.
Of course that goal merely tied the match. Penalties followed, and Hope again dazzled for the all important save. I followed the rest of the Cup, and when it closed I had somewhat renewed that passion despite the PK loss to Japan in the final. I even had a new crush, lol. Shh, don’t tell Paula!
A few weeks later I was driving home from work when my phone rang. Frank, a friend I hadn’t spoken to in quite a while, was calling for advice. He had just taken over his grandson’s team and needed help. Hesitant at first, as I was enjoying being away from the coaching circle, I finally offered to come out for a few weeks to show how I did things and then sort of pass the torch, if you will. A couple of days after that he called again. Same request, different kid. This time it was his daughter’s team. I gave him the same spiel.
Later in the month when we convened for first practices, I was already having second thoughts. Coaching kids has always brought me great joy. That is until over involved, unrealistic parents would find a way to suck the joy out. Always happened, eventually. I would enjoy the few years until the cons outweighed the pros. Sad, really. Then I would step away, and chase other dreams.
I gave the parents my usual talk about how I do what I do, my hopes, and my plans. Recreational parents don’t often see the big picture with regards to development. Who are we kidding? Competitive parents are often worse. What I believe is the best way to teach and develop isn’t exactly a popular concept, or widely accepted throughout the coaching community. Yet, the results speak for themselves. It’s not really my original philosophy, but that’s another blog post.
Those first few weeks passed, and I had stepped in with both feet. So much for my original plan. I was back to loving hanging out with the kids. I’ve always loved being around the kids. They keep me looking at life through their eyes, and I love what that perspective does for my own life. We could all use that view sometimes.
Coming back to Midwest City Soccer Club put me around some old familiar faces, and I immediately began to recall some history. Not all of that pleasant. Yet another blog post. I left there fifteen years ago to pursue competitive opportunities never really looking back.
The first season went well. I was happy with the progress out of the boys and girls. This being my first foray back into recreational ball took some adjustment on my part, but we stuck to our plan. The second season saw still more progress. When it wrapped up, I had talked to the girls about taking the next step and playing academy level. I had been offered that age group, and it seemed like the natural step. Academy is where I preferred to be anyway. I much prefer to be around more commitment from both parents and players. It’s tough to go back to recreational once you take that leap. I had made that jump nearly twenty years ago, so I had spent much more time at the higher levels.
The academy team fell through, and the girls were faced with a choice. Take that next step, or stick with me. Most decided to stay. By this time it seemed clear I wasn’t going to step away like my original plan had detailed. So now that I had jumped in with both feet, it made sense to do it the only real way I knew how. All in. With that, FC Krunch was born. New uniforms, boys and girls all matching. Printed t-shirts, hoodies. Thanks Dianne!
Our numbers were growing as other parents were seeing what we were doing, and wanted their kids to be a part of it. We had enough players to split both the boys and the girls. My two day a week practices turned to four. Paula would ask what my plans were for the evening, but soon that question was pointless. Remember, all in. Saturdays were totally consumed with matches. It was like the Magpies in the 90’s all over again. We were seeing so much progress however, we couldn’t wait for the next games just to see what ridiculously difficult skill they would do next. Our kids were becoming the talk of the club, and parents from neighboring games were watching us instead of their own. It was a constant barrage of questions, “How do you get them to do that?” “What are you teaching?””I’ve never seen an entire team have those skills!” I was extremely happy with how the program was working.
The first tournament of the spring season saw the girls breeze to the finals. We had always stressed that the end result wasn’t what mattered. It was the effort that was attempted. Yet, still it was satisfying to see the work pay off. We were dominant in the final as well, though the score was close. I stood there when the final whistle blew scratching my head as I turned to Frank and said, “We just won a tournament.” How far they had advanced in only two years. For me, it was only my second tournament championship ever. I was more moved by the progress of the kids. Big picture, remember.
The next tournament was more of the same as we coasted into the finals. We played a team from Edmond that we would see a few times over the next year, and would really be our only competition during that time. Coached by a long time friend of mine, they were very athletic and really challenged us. Playing them always brought tension, except to me. I found it exhilarating to see us use our skill against that kind of athleticism. We lost on one of the craziest goals I’ve seen in twenty-six years, yet I was prouder of our kids that day than ever before. We stuck to our plan. We didn’t sacrifice anything that we believed in to try to win the match. Our girls never took the easy way out in that game. They showed so much bravery to do what we asked of them, and in the end while it may have cost them that game, I believe we learned so much more. We were better for it.
The final tournament was Day of Champions. I had taken several teams to that tournament in my early years of recreational coaching, never once getting out of my group. I was disappointed to see the Edmond team not there. I believe my experience at that tournament suffered from it, also. We sailed to the finals, and after a few reschedules due to weather, in the end we were by far the superior group. I wasn’t even all that happy with how we played in the final match. Our standard had become so high. I didn’t feel we met it, and yet we were four goals better. Still, the accomplishment wasn’t lost on me. This team had become the most skilled, decorated group I’d ever had, and they would add more hardware the next year. More importantly, they entertained me, and were a blast to be around. I wouldn’t hardly pay money to see professionals play, but I would’ve paid to see them. You never knew what creative skill they were going to try next.
Meanwhile the boys were progressing at their own rate. Unfortunately they saw more player turnover which is common in the recreational game. It was difficult for them to sustain any team rhythm through their time. That didn’t stop the skills, however, or reduce their entertainment value. Between Isaac pulling ten Maradona’s a game, Garrett’s lightning fast triangles, or Isaiah trying to nutmeg everyone, they were more predictable than their female counterparts. That didn’t diminish my pride in their play.
The girls tried the academy route again in the ensuing summer. Once again in Midwest City, this fell through. That was compounded when we had our player assignments vetoed by the board. Unsure of what to do, I called my main mentor, Richard Hudson. Rich and I go far back as he gave me my first competitive coaching experience as well as a wealth of knowledge. His advice was simple, go academy. I said, “OK. Where?” He said out where he was in Canadian Valley. Simple enough. We’d continue to practice in MWC, wear the CVFC crest and play in the league in Norman. Not confusing at all, right? It actually worked well, all things considered. That is until we lost a couple of players, and didn’t have the means to replace them easily.
The first season went well considering the adjustment for the kids to a faster game and far better competition. Exactly what we needed, however. We were still making progress, and most kept the big picture in mind. Not a simple thing to do when you go from winning nearly all the time, to nearly never. Full credit to those involved. You know who you are.
My original goal for the girls when we first started talking academy was to be able to pass them on to someone I trusted. Someone that saw development the way I did. In the city, that really only means one person, Rich. Being in CFVC made that a real possibility. As we prepared for our final season, I felt good about my exit strategy, albeit a little sad to leave them.
I’ve never had much issue saying goodbye to coaching, because usually it’s under bad circumstances. See previous statements about over involved parents. This time however, I was stepping away for different reasons. I wanted my time back. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started placing higher value on my time. I suppose that’s normal. I’ve also started new hobbies. You’re reading one of them, now. It’s fair to say I’m just not that enamored with the game at this time. That’s gone in cycles, too, in the recent decade.
Saying goodbye to these kids isn’t at all something I’ve looked forward to despite being ready to devote my time to other interests. All of them have left permanent impressions on my life, and I will miss seeing them so often. They are all exceptional in their own way, and I believe they all have such bright futures. Hopefully they’ve learned the most important lesson in our program, to give maximum effort in whatever endeavor they choose. We set out to develop brave, creative leaders. I believe time will show that we’ve helped do that. I can hardly wait to see where these boys and girls are in eight to ten years. Or fifteen, or twenty for that matter.
So, here we are. Four years later, which if you follow international soccer, you know what that means. That’s right. Another Women’s World Cup. Who knows what drama awaits. I do have plans to at least try to watch. Will the US entertain me more than four years ago? Hopefully. Will I sit there and couch coach like I usually do? Probably. One thing’s for sure. Should a late goal happen that sees me running through the house in ecstatic celebration, my wife will at least not be so surprised. So maybe I’ve just hit pause and rewind. Perhaps in time I’ll push replay, and do this all over again.