A very tough choice
Yesterday, we had the Playoffs for our soccer league. I say ‘our’ because I coached her team. That wasn’t the plan, but the league head knew I was in the coaching field and said she could be a late entry on a new team if they found a coach. Okay.
Twelve games and 22 practices later, we finished up yesterday on an incredible high by surprising the entire league and reaching the Finals. Along the way, we defeated two teams we hadn’t beaten all season and lost 2-3 in the Finals to a team we lost to many weeks ago 0-11. No, that’s not a typo.
In short, we’ve improved!
It’s been a real challenge walking the path of coach and father, simultaneously. At the start of the season, I told her, “Listen, I’m the coach, and I need to be the coach at practices and games. There will be times when I need to make decisions as a coach and not a father, otherwise it won’t do right by the other kids and it will be perceived as favoritism by the parents. Do you understand?” She said she did.
The reason I wanted her to try soccer is because she I thought it would be fun for her. She is quite fast, picks up many athletic pursuits with relative ease (biking without training wheels in literally 20 minutes), and, since she was a tyke, she’s had this wicked strong left foot. Even as a toddler, my Mom and I would remark, “She should play soccer one day!”
But more than an athlete, she’s a happy, in-the-moment, sometimes introverted, art-oriented child. Being on a sports team was an entirely new experience, and they were all boys except one. Frankly, I expected that she was going to use her speed and left foot more during the season, but she had her ups and downs in figuring out what to do. She would get confused, not attack the ball when it was near. Other times, she’d make great plays and kick it up field. It was challenging to watch her not being more aggressive.”
Her – “Daddy, can I play forward or midfield?”
Me – “Honey, I’d love to play you on forward, but you have to play aggressively?”
Her – “I will. I promise! I’m just learning, Daddy.”
She always got me with that one, but it was still hard to understand why she wouldn’t attack a ball that was near her. She was by no means the only one. Most of the new kids are like this.
Okay, fast forward to the second game in the Playoffs, yesterday, which was our 11th contest of the season. We had come from behind from 1-2 down to tie a team we lost to in regular season twice. Penalty kicks time. A bunch of kids raised their hands who I knew just didn’t have a strong chance of scoring on a penalty kick.
I quickly picked four of our five shooters. With one more to choose, I hesitated as I saw my daughter’s hand raised and pleading to be chosen.
Inside my head-
“She has that left foot. She could do it. But she hasn’t been focused in the game, and she was kind of whiny. Sometimes, her aggressiveness lapses. Now is not the time for a chance on a lapse.”
I chose the other girl on the team whom I had chosen in the first game penalty kicks, even though she missed. She’s bold.
My daughter’s head and another boy’s head immediately collapsed into their laps. My heart sank, but I turned my attention to my shooters and focused their minds as they expressed their nerves…
“Remember what I told you. You don’t think about anything except the mental picture of what you want.” They all nodded.
The other girl missed again. It was fine. A couple minutes later, our entire Team was jumping up and down in jubilation as we won the shootout and progressed to the Finals.
It was bittersweet for me.
While I have to think as a coach first out there, it hurt me a lot to think that, in that moment, she felt like her Dad couldn’t count on her. I wished badly I could have gone back in time and given her the chance. If she had missed, we still would have won, it seems.
But you can’t go back in time and sometimes you have to make tough calls. That was one of them.
She is gone for the weekend, and I can’t wait until she returns so we can talk about that moment. I want to hear about how it impacted her and to let her know that, if she is motivated to do so, I will work with her every week until next season to help her become a player who would be an automatic choice and a probable scorer.
When the Finals were over, she posed with the trophy like she was the MVP. If she was feeling down, you’d never know it. She leaned in to me
Her – “Did I do good, Daddy?”
Me – “You were wonderful. As the game went on, you attacked the ball and had some excellent kicks.”
She smiled. Kids are resilient. But moments like that where I didn’t pick her can affect a child’s self-esteem and belief system. It hurts me to think I might have done that. Hopefully, we will turn it into an empowering learning experience. I will try my best.