Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seeing the Girl (and the dad) On the Field

Yesterday, my older daughter had her first modified soccer game. For five years I have been her coach in youth soccer, but now she has graduated and I have returned to being just a parent on the sideline. The coach inside me, it turns out, dies hard. 

The team had a tough assignment. They are a combined city team with a majority of girls who have never played organized soccer. My daughter is one of the better players or at least one of the more experienced. They were playing a suburban team of girls who looked as though they had all played club ball, played all winter indoors, and were already signed to a major team in Europe. 

I may be exaggerating a bit. 

Watching the game, I kept dreaming that my daughter would be more aggressive, that she would, as I like to say, “want the ball.” This however is not who she is. She listens to coaching, she runs the field pretty well, but she’s never been hungry for the ball or had anything resembling a killer instinct. It’s not who she is. 

I kept wishing that she would go for the ball, that she would become an aggressive soccer machine. In short, I kept wishing that she was someone other than who she is. In doing so, I missed most of her play and my chance to enjoy my girl. 

There is a balance between pushing a child to do her best, to learn something new and forgetting who she is. My daughter is the soccer player she is and no amount of me coaching her is going to do much about that. I learned that this summer when, after five years of coaching, I accomplished more in twenty minutes of playing silent catch with her. It turns out that she doesn’t need to hear much from me. She needs time with the ball and she loves sharing that time with me. 

On the sidelines of the game yesterday, my wife asked if I wanted to go home. The question shocked me. How could she think that I wanted to leave? I figured out later that she was trying to help me understand that I wasn’t at the game anyway. I was watching a game in my head played by some girl other than our daughter and that I was trying to make that imagined game come out of my head and be on the field. That’s a losing game for sure. 

I’ve got a chance at a do-over today. I’m now the assistant coach for my younger daughter’s team. I’m going to try to shut the hell up during the game. Let the girls play. Then when they come off the field, we’ll work together on ideas and talking about what we do well. I’ll pay special attention to my girl and make sure that we hug and high five a lot. Most of all, I’ll let her know that I’m watching her on the field instead of imagining some girls she could have been. 

Maybe, through all that, I might find myself on the sideline instead of spending the game wishing that I was some other dad to some other kids who have never existed and couldn’t compare to my children anyway. 

Write on.