Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vince Lombardi Can Kiss My Pasty White A$$

The Secret of My Success - Night Ranger (mp3)
Everybody's a VIP to Someone - The Go! Team (mp3)
(Link removed due to DRSM violation warning.)

It's all because of me and my old man. God, I fucking hate him. He's like, he's like this mindless machine I can't even relate to anymore. "Andrew, you've got to be number one. I won't tolerate any losers in this family. Your intensity is for shit." You son of a bitch. You know, sometimes I wish my knee would give and I wouldn't be able to wrestle anymore. He could forget all about me.
-- Andrew Clarke (Emilio Estevez), The Breakfast Club

My daughters' U10 soccer team won three games in a row on Saturday to take home the league championship. No one on their team had ever played select soccer. Only three of the eight girls had ever played together before, and two of the three were my girls.

Oh yeah. And I was their coach.

The Vampires -- yeah, that was our team name -- weren't superbly talented, and their coach had never played in or coached a game of actual soccer in his whole life. The only reason I was the coach was because our original coach backed out, and the only way the five girls who wanted to play together could was if I were willing to do it. My first email to parents included something to this effect: "If your goal is to win, or if you expect your girls to dramatically improve, this is a bad idea. I can only promise you that we will try to have fun and teach what we can." Trust me that I'm not being humble when I say we barely met our meager goals.

Very rarely does having a philosophy that values other things above winning actually get rewarded with winning. If victory isn't the priority, it's not fair to expect to be rewarded with victory, right? So please allow me this rare opportunity to bask in it.

Granted, a lot of serendipitous factors played into our ultimate victory and were much more important than anything I did or any philosophy I espoused:
  1. It rained all fucking season. More than half our games were postponed or cancelled, as were more than half our practices. This didn't hurt our team as much as it did teams who actually have great and beneficial practices.
  2. In the tournament, we were given a Christmas gift of a blind draw. Three of the four debatably better teams all played in the other half of the bracket.
  3. Because all teams started the season with small rosters -- 7 or 8 players for teams that play six to a side -- injuries and absences made it tough to field a team. Several coaches used "pick-ups" all year to beef up their team, and those pick-ups were frequently U10 and U8 select players. (And trust me, a select U8 is regularly better than an average U10 player.) These coaches asked that this tournament make exception to standard rules and allow pick-ups. I opposed and said that we should play 5 v 5 when necessary rather than allow for what I lovingly call "assassins."
  4. All seven of our girls showed up for the tourney. We played the last two games 5 v 5, and the other team had no subs.

In short, we had a bench, we hadn't been padding our team, and superior coaches didn't have as much time to improve their players. Add up those factors and my scrub team of very decent soccer girls, playing under a philosophy of "have fun and work together," won a title.

One of our girls hurt her knee the weekend before. She could hardly run, and when she did, she resembled Forrest Gump when he was on those leg braces. But I played her anyway. I called her "SuperSub," because her job was to go in when any of the other girls were tired. And she gave it her all even though she had no business being out there if winning was our goal.

When those three whistles blew, and those girls knew they'd won, each of them could know confidently that they had played a part in winning. From the injured sub to our stud goalie to my daughters. It wasn't just Self-Esteem-Boosting Lefty Dad talking. Each girl on our team contributed an invaluable part of the victories. To be able to say that, and mean it, and see in their eyes that they believed it... that was far better than the mere victories. (Unfortunately, it's soooo much easier to believe that shit when you also win.)

To say coaching is taken a little too seriously in the 21st Century is like saying that walking on water is kinda neat. Nerds like me believe coaches are given far too much power, influence and credit.

The way some people at our school talk, you'd think coaches invented the light bulb and helped ensure world peace. Too often, we hire teachers based more on what coaching vacancies they can fill rather than whether they teach well. We'll take a B- teacher who coaches the right thing over an A+ teacher who's willing to learn how to coach. (And it's not just our school. I dare you to find a handful of male principals in any public system who weren't coaches before they got promoted.)

Meanwhile, our school's history is chock full of smart teachers who didn't know jack shit about their sport somehow leading teams to state titles. But we ignore that and instead hire "professional" coaches; that is, people who find a sport more important than all the other stuff involved in the process of education. And we apparently live with this decision by saying that what kids learn on athletic fields carries with them the rest of their lives. (As opposed to, you know, geometry and The Scarlet Letter, which don't have nearly the staying power as lessons learned from wrestling. In math terms, that's Cross-Body Ride > x.)

Ever read the infamous email from the man I call the Green Death Soccer Coach? It's quite the work of art. Even though I think there's a chance the dude was totally kidding, I can say quite confidently that had he been in the South, he would never have faced the kinds of negativity and consequences he saw up in Massachusetts. Down here, we promote these coaches. These dudes are now principals. Or Nick Saban.

Competition and competitiveness in their proper places, in the proper perspective, are wonderful and powerful things. But our society of parents and adults looks and sounds more and more like Andrew Clarke's dad every day. And either too many of us seem to think it's OK, or we don't care enough to change it.

In the finals, the other coach took a girl out in the final six minutes because she wouldn't get back on defense when we scored our final goal. The girl was big. She'd been playing non-stop the whole game. What's the big shock here? But he basically conceded defeat when we played five of the last eight minutes in a 5v4 game. To teach her a lesson, I guess. That being 10 and utterly exhausted is no excuse.

I'm a little competitive. Otherwise I wouldn't be celebrating the fact that my girls kicked the collective asses of all those serious coaches obsessed with winning. At this very moment, I feel very much like Bud Adams in the Buffalo luxury box. That's what a few beers can do to someone who knows it's not easy to keep the value of victory in perspective. So you'll have to forgive me if, for this one brief moment, the forces of Fun and Perspective won out over The League of Winning Is Everything Jocks and I cheer a little harder than the moment deserved.

God bless Night Ranger, but it's a miracle there's any cliches left after they used so many of them on this one song. And God bless The Go! Team for making songs that sound both sooo so '70s yet soooo so kewl.


cinderkeys said...

Great story!

I read this a few times and can't quite parse it:

"In the finals, the other coach took a girl out in the final six minutes because she wouldn't get back on defense when we scored our final goal. ... But he basically conceded defeat when we played five of the last eight minutes in a 5v4 game."

The coach took his own player out? Huh? It would probably help if I knew anything about sports, or at least what "get back on defense" means. :)

sharania said...

Oh, Billy! The world needs so many more parents and coaches like you. Had I only know you would one day teach young girls to be empowered and well, winners I would have never left you!

Mia Hamm said...

Oops! Maybe I need to stick to soccer instead of blogs. That sharania comment was from me, your long lost love Mia! The twins distracted me and I got the secret code word and the name line mixed up.

Hank said...

The problem is that, somewhere along the way, the rumor got started that to being a good coach required being a jerk. That it is impossible to be demanding without being demeaning. Of course, the fact that organized youth sports exists primarily for the benefit of adults doesn't help either.

Deadspin has started a running a series called "A-Hole Coach Digest". Not for the easily offended, but pretty funny: http://deadspin.com/5405811/a+hole-coach-digest-fifty-hot-ones-comin-at-ya?skyline=true&s=x

troutking said...

1. Congratulations.
2. I agree with all your points about sports, whatever school you are talking about that only hires coaches and everything else, except one point...
3. You aren't a "lefty" except in East Tennessee.

Billy said...

Cinder -- Yes, the coach pulled one of his players, giving us a 1-person advantage toward the end of the game. Because she was too tired to keep running. He didn't pull her out of pity to let her rest, but to punish her.

Mia -- I'm sorry it didn't work out between us. You were a sweet girl, but you were holding me back.

Hank -- Love the link. Amazing how many of those stories are about a kid's OWN coach, not the other team's coach.

Trout -- Politics are relative to location, so you're right. Or, actually, you're so far left in East Tennessee that you're in the emergency lane and scraping up against the concrete sidewall. In San Fran? You're a moderate.

Anson Dorrance said...

Um, I'm pretty sure I coached you at Carolina, you lying douche.

Nice sex-change.

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