Saturday, June 10, 2006

One mad soccer dad

The 10 year old’s soccer team, the Green Geckos, is coming to the end of a rough season.

They started out looking strong, taking two of the first four games, and three of those were hard-fought close ones—2-1, 2-3, 3-2. The other game they got trounced, 1-6. But they came back after that to pick up their second win.

Unfortunately, it turned out that they’d played three of the weakest teams in the league. The weakest team is the Green Geckos.

They’re just too young. In a division of third, fourth, and a few fifth graders, their roster’s overstocked with 3rd graders. Little third graders. Jack is one of the few fourth graders and one of only three boys. They’ve lost three in a row now, three games in which they haven’t scored a goal, and all three were against teams that were heavy—literally heavy—with fourth grade boys, plus a few large, fast fourth grade girls. The Geckos have no natural scorers, and no real goalie. Jack plays defense all game but he’s not quick enough to play goalie. The girl who tends goal most of the time is quick and scrappy. She’s going to be a good player someday. But she’s barely four feet tall, if that.

There’s nothing that can be done about this. Luck of the draw. The kids are well-coached and they’re doing a good job of learning the game. They’re just young and small and intimidated by the bigger, stronger kids on the other teams. Our strikers—usually three little girls, and I’m describing their size; they are little girls even among little girls—can bring the ball down pretty well but they have a tendency to flinch when a defender charges them.

You can’t blame them. It’s their 60 pounds dripping wet facing 95 pound juggernauts. Actually, you watch them and you’re amazed they stand their ground at all.

What I’m saying is that if you’re the coach of the opposing team and you look out at the Geckos at the start of a game and see their tiny goalie and pint-sized strikers you have to think to yourself that as long as your team doesn’t keep driving at the big blond kid playing right corner you have a pretty good chance of scoring at will.

The coaches of the three teams the Geckos lost to before today saw their advantages in height, weight, speed, and experience and, being good sports, coached their games accordingly, leaving their subs in longer, having their best players play defense more than offense. They played to win but they understood that they had the games sewn up by half time and relaxed.

The league has a gentleman and gentlewoman’s agreement that when a team gets five goals ahead, it stops trying to score. Which is why the scores of the those three games were 6-1, 5-0, and 5-0, when the poor Geckos could easily have lost each of them by 12, at least.

The opposing coach today was no gentleman.

He had his team up 5-0 by the half.

They started the second half by scoring another goal.

Our coach went over to talk to him to remind him of the league’s 5 point rule. He told her he was willing to abide by it, normally, but there was only one game left in the season after today, and a couple of his players hadn’t scored a goal yet all season and he figured they had their best shot against the Geckos.

This was like asking our coach if she minded if he used the Geckos for target practice.

Had it been me I’d have told him to take a knee.

But our coach decided to let it go.

The game continued.

But the other coach, instead of putting his subs in to let them have their goals, left his two best strikers in. Both of them already had two goals apiece.

They each got one more.

They’d have scored three more apiece if Jack hadn’t gotten mad. He left his position on the right side every time they brought down the ball and bulled into them.

I think the ref was on our side by that time. She grew suddenly blind to fouls by the Geckos.

Game ended with the score 8-0.

Our coach had words with the other coach after the game.

He was a loudmouth as well as a welsher. I heard him from the sidelines defending himself, claiming that he’d honored the agreement by having only the two strikers. “I had four kids back on defense!” he yelled. “Four back there not trying to score.”

And incidentally making sure the Geckos didn’t score either.

He’d left his starting goalie in too, and that kid was not four feet tall.

Got to give the Geckos a big hand. They didn’t quit. They played hard right to the end. And they were in much better spirits at the end of today’s loss than they were after last week’s.

Not me though. I was sore as hell. And I didn’t try hard to hide it from the 10 year old on the walk home.

There are lots of ways to learn how to be a good sport. One is to accept your losses with grace and a stoic resolve to play all the harder next time out, learning from not only from your mistakes but from all the things your opponents did right in order to beat you. This lesson includes taking pride in the things you did right, even though you lost.

That was the lesson of the last two walks home.

But there are other lessons. And today’s lesson was that some grown-ups are not good sports.

They are, in fact, jerks.

Lying, double-crossing jerks.

Not anybody you want to grow up to be like.


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