I never played a game of soccer in my life. When I was nine years old, I asked my mom if I could be on a girls' soccer team. She didn't even think about it. "No, sorry, I don't want you to get hurt," was her calm but unwavering response. I didn't push it. I didn't want it that much, I guess. Instead, I became a cheerleader on the "Little Red Devils," my brothers' soccer team. My dad was the head coach.
Fast forward to motherhood: I am a mom to two boys, ages seven and eight, who are sports fanatics. They play sports, they watch sports, they even find ways in school to write about sports. According to my seven-year-old's math teacher, he figures out his math problems by talking about touchdowns and two point conversions.
So when it was time to sign up for AYSO, rec soccer, they couldn't wait. Honestly, I couldn't wait! Finally, I'd be able to call myself a soccer mom. But one thing stood in my way: my older son couldn't be on a team because there weren't enough parent volunteers. The AYSO emails were relentless. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! YOUR SON MIGHT NOT GET ON A TEAM! I took it to heart. I gave my eight-year-old the bad news. I told him unfortunately his dad was already maxed out as he was coaching baseball. He said it wasn't fair. I began to try to console him. But then he said something I never expected. "Mom, you can be my coach!" I was flattered. I was scared. I wanted to do it... for him.
The next day, I signed up to be a coach. Per AYSO, I took online classes to learn about concussions and the rules of the league. I also attended a three-hour class to learn practice drills and game etiquette. I thought I could do it. Heck, before I was a reporter, I was a teacher. I taught eight year olds. And even though I never played soccer, as a kid I ran track, and I played volleyball and basketball. In fact, every year from the 4th through 8th grades, I won the coveted award, "Athlete of the Year!"
Finally, my courses completed, it was time to start the season. I enlisted the head coach of the Little Red Devils, my dad, the sweetest, most patient man I've ever known.
The team started strong. Our first practice was a get-to-know-ya. We even voted on our team name. Needless to say, the kids jumped on board with the Red Devils after I told them the story from my childhood. We had fun practices, sometimes challenged by kids who didn't always listen. I get it, though -- they're eight. I brought in professional soccer coaches visiting from the UK provided by AYSO to lead some practices. We even practiced in the rain! Yes, it was every kid's dream come true.
But it wasn't always rainbows after the rain. Here's the thing: when you're a parent and you're coaching other parents' children, it can get a little, well, uncomfortable. It just feels weird. At least to me it did. Maybe if I had played soccer and felt more confident in what I was doing my feelings might have been different, but it was a challenge. And it certainly didn't help when I had one kid quit in the middle of the season to go play on a club team. Really, you think your kid is so good that he can't finish out a commitment you and he made to his AYSO rec team? Just take a good look at the statistics on professional athletes, please.
There was also the kid who wanted to quit because he had only played on winning teams and he didn't like losing. The kid told me about his concerns. I explained to him that he could turn this into a life lesson. First, no one ever wins all of the time. Second, he could help lead the team as one of the stronger members; and lastly, if he stuck with it, he would feel a sense of accomplishment from learning that when things get tough, he could handle it. This kid stuck with it.
We started winning. We started to become more cohesive. We started to feel confident--including me.
Now to the soccer parents. My parents were supportive, except the one who let his kid quit. He never talked to the other parents. He never said thank you to me or my dad after the games.
But it sometimes got worse. One parent from a team we were playing actually came up to me during the game and told me to move a kid from a certain position on the field. No way was this guy gonna bully me and my Red Devils! Not a chance! I looked straight into his eyes and sternly said, "No." I turned away. That was a victory for me as well as the boys that day. 3-2 Red Devils.
In the end, we won 3, lost 6 and tied 1, but we overcame a lot of obstacles. I overcame a lot of obstacles.
We passed out trophies at our team party. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I wanted the soccer season to be this amazing experience with my son and my dad. But it wasn't. It was good. It just wasn't amazing. But I'm one of those people who always sees the greenest of fields, not the dirt ones we played on. And remember the kid who wanted to quit? He gave me a hug and said, "Hey, Coach Donna, are you coaching next season? I'd like to be on your team." Once again, another eight-year-old had shocked me with his sweet words. Wow, the power of kids!
Even though that wonderful little boy made me think for a split second of coaching again, it will never, ever happen. I'm retired from coaching. But I will forever cherish that time with my son. When he's a teenager, I'll gently remind him of how it was his idea that I be his coach.
But the biggest lesson for me is that I'll be eternally grateful for all the coaches my boys have had and the ones yet to come, the rec and professional coaches alike. They give their time, energy and love to my kids, to our kids. I hope every parent out there who reads this essay will look at their kids' coaches through the eyes of their kids and remember: it's just a game.
Follow Donna on twitter @donnatetreault or go to her website: DonnaTetreault.com