I mentioned Coach and Pee Wee soccer in a previous post, promising to tell the story at a later point. Today seems like a good day for it.
Back when JMumbo was in second grade, Coach decided he and a friend should coach the soccer team. They both had kids playing and this way the kids would “learn the right things”. Those of you who work in elementary schools or have second graders are already laughing, and you should be. The team consisted of kids headed into kindergarten through second grade the coming school year. Lots of fun, lots of short people, very short attention spans.
Coach and his buddy couldn’t make some of the first games, so the moms coached. We had a pretty good time watching all those little ones run all over the field. If you have never watched a soccer game at this age, the basic mentality is herd right, herd left, herd down the middle. Where ever the ball is, that is where the entire team goes. It is a flurry of feet all kicking at once, except for the two kids picking flowers who forgot they were playing and the goalie who is doing their best to trap a body part in the net. We rolled with it and laughed a lot.
The game day arrived when the true coaches showed up. The ones who were going to “do it right”. They set the team up on the field and the game began. Coach is calling to one kid over and over and the boy is ignoring him. Finally he looks at me and says, “Do I have the wrong name?”
“Why isn’t he answering?”
“He wants to be called Ben after Ben-10, the cartoon character.”
“Just try Ben and see what happens.” I said this with a big grin on my face. The signs for Ben-10 were there, the checking of the imaginary watch that allows him to change shapes, the sudden switches in direction as he faced his foes, and the complete lack of acknowledgement when his actual name was called.
Coach called Ben and the boy turned around. After a brief exchange, he looked back at me. “Is he Ben all the time?”
“No, sometimes he goes by his regular name.”
“How do you know?” Coach asked, trying hard to figure this changeling out.
I shrugged my shoulders because I really couldn’t give an answer. It depended on the day and sometimes Ben switched halfway through the game.
We continued to play with Coach shaking his head and looking perplexed at the boy who spent most of his time falling on the ground and rolling (not Ben, another boy), the complete lack of positioning, and the random sudden interest in a butterfly or heaven forbid, airplane, flying over the field. Airplanes tend to result in a complete halt in play, with every kid gazing into the sky.
At one point the other team had the ball and were actually moving it down the field toward our goal. Coach turned toward the goalie to get him ready, only to find him missing. Gone. Not in the goal, not even on the field. Coach looked toward me, I shrugged, and trying not to laugh, began to scan the sidelines thinking maybe he had headed to the bathroom. I found him there, having a snack with his mom, who thought he had been subbed out. I called him back on the field and explained to Coach that he needed some pretzel sticks and a drink.
About that time Coach decided he needed to sit down and headed to the bench. His dreams of a well-ordered soccer machine were gone, replaced by the reality of the chaotic joy that infuses a pee wee soccer game.
The moms coached the rest of the season. Golf leagues and big kid soccer games in need of referees seemed to always fall on game days. Even when Coach managed to make a game, he sat the bench, keeping order there.
I became the head coach and found a new assistant the next year.