“The seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round,

and the painted ponies go up and down;

we’re captured on the carousel of time. 

We can’t return we can only look, behind from where we came, and go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in this circle game…”

 

I’m not certain who penned those words first (I think it was Joni Mitchell, but my brother often intones the lyrics when singing at weddings for friends & family so I associate the clip with him).  The rhymes came to mind yesterday as I stowed my soccer gear in the shed after the completion of another season.  It was sad to put the plethora of balls, cones, cutting poles, speed ladders and other nonsense that I hadn’t even imagined owning 5 years ago away at the end of a campaign.  But, as Ms. Mitchell so eloquently advises, the seasons do go ‘round.

 

Sometimes my powerlessness in the passage of time overwhelms me.  There are moments that arise, become etched in memory, then flitter past us.  The wish that those snapshots of time and place could be stalled and relished in the ‘now’ is one of my life’s grandest quandaries; it is a joy to experience in the happening yet at the same time a disappointment that the elation of the moment as a microcosm soon passes.  Why can’t the simple joys in life last?  Too soon, we must return to reality.

 

And so ends another soccer season.

 

The 2009 Cherry Bombs

 

 

This was our 4th trip out to try to train girls in a sport that I knew so little about prior to having children.  In the what now seem to be ancient BK (Before Kids) days I’d always imagined the day when I’d coach my son’s football team to the league championship game or stand by the mat as my son pinned his opponent in the State championship meet.  I’d never imagined that my focus might be on my daughter and her cronies doing battle with another group of talented girls on a soccer field.  Yet here I find myself coaching a bunch of little girls to go out every weekend and give their all.

 

As we took the field in early August coach Scott & I were ecstatic about the prospects of another season.  Those of you who aren’t acquainted with me couldn’t know of my history; a broken back nearly 20 years ago and a hip degenerating from the resulting sciatica have left me somewhat immobile.  With better than a half-century of hard miles on this body my days in the spotlight are done.  I’ll never walk off the wrestling mat as a champion again.  No more interceptions or touchdowns to be scored on the gridiron.  I no longer yearn to surf the biggest waves Mother Nature has to offer.  Those things are for the young Turks – I’ve been there, done-that, and I walk with a limp and a stoop at too young an age because of the fun I had in my younger days.

 

I’m done – that’s a cold hard fact of growing older.  Yet perhaps with these young ladies I cannot only capture the feeling I once owned, but at the same time instill in them a sense of commitment that will allow them to achieve more than they ever thought they were capable of.  I had coaches who did it for me, so my goal now is to be ‘that’ coach these kids remember.  Achieving more; obtaining greater results than we ever thought possible – it goes beyond the soccer field.  It can become the fabric of life. 

 

Sure, it sounds corny as hell, but I know that today at least an iota of my resolve comes from my coaches in the past that inspired me to play through pain and fatigue.  Working harder and not accepting mediocrity is not an option for me; it is a mandate, infused in my identity primarily from my parents to be certain, but also from those crazed coaches who made me run the extra windsprints or work the takedown to perfection.

 

Well, when Scott & I walked onto the practice field for the initial time this season we found a team made up of about ½ of our past players and the other ½ new faces.  We’d lost a player who was probably the top scorer in the division the prior year, and also players who were lightning fast and had the tough-as-nails attitude that is so hard to find in 9 year old girls.  The new players were fine young ladies; just not as experienced as our departed kids.  When we instructed a player to play “left mid” and someone responded by asking “Coach, which side is left?” we realized the magnitude of the task that lay ahead for us.

 

That’s what makes all this fun - the opportunity to help these girls improve.  Sure, it was work, and we made them work hard.  I think two girls told their mothers after the first practice that they didn’t want to come back.  That’s my measure of a good start to the season.  Our girls will not be outrun.  So we ran to start the season.  A summer of relaxation was suddenly replaced with windsprints and tough one-on-one drills.  It was hot then, but we practiced.  Through moans and cries for mercy, we practiced on.  “My last coach never made us do this…” was heard often and fell on deaf ears.  Heck, I lost 8 pounds myself!  We were working hard!

 

As it goes with all teams, a personality starts to form as a unit.  To be certain, this team was not as experienced as our prior squads at the start of the season.  What Coach Scott and I noticed as the rust of summer was polished off the girls was that despite the lack of know-how with the ball or understanding of positions, we had a VERY fast group of young ladies.  We entered the season using that superior speed as our primary weapon.  The Cherry Bombs were fast!  Speed often overcomes lack of experience, and our early season success was a result of our girls capitalizing on their greater quickness.

 

After a first game heartbreaker of a loss by one on a penalty kick (and poor coaching choices), the Cherry Bombs rolled off four straight wins, outscoring opponents 17-1 over that span.  The girls in red played loose, fun soccer.  It was entertaining for all; parents were exuberant and the coaches felt pretty good too.  We were floating on a high induced by thoughts of soccer immortality.

 

Then, gravity took hold.  The flu hit us.  We had less than half the players at practices.  Our girls played a heroic game with numerous players out and others not even fully recovered from their illness.  Four parents came to me after the game and informed me that their daughters had fevers in excess of 100 degrees at kickoff.  Had I known, I wouldn’t have let them play.  Yet they gave it their all, losing a squeaker in a hard fought battle not only to their opponent, but also to illness.

 

Something changed in the team’s personality at the midseason point.  The young ladies that had outscored their opponents an average of 4 to .5 goals (that’s point 5, not 5) per game in the first half of the season inexplicably lost their ability to find the net!  The ‘Bombs went on a 4 game stretch where they scored only one goal.  Coach Scott and I conversed about this relentlessly.  How could the top scoring team in the division suddenly go so flat?  The girls were playing great defense, but they couldn’t score.

 

It was in the review of the video of the games I found the answer.  The old Japanese proverb states, “When the fish stinks, it stinks from the head.”  The Cherry Bombs’ problem was not with the players entirely, but rather with the coach.  Partially the players to be certain, but the inability to score was induced by coaching.  This may sound odd, but I think the girls began doing what the coaches asked of them at the midseason mark.  It has become shockingly clear – our girls started listening to us!

 

They started looking for the pass more often.  They started working on their cutting in the games.  Protecting the ball in the box was coached in practice and accomplished on the field of play.  The Cherry Bombs were doing what they’d been coached to do!  The heavens opened and the light shone upon them!  They were turning into soccer players!

 

There is a teaching that to be truly successful one must accomplish their tasks unconsciously.  The steps of learning go (1) Consciousness that one does not know how to accomplish the task (2) Consciousness of learning the task, and (3) Unconsciousness implementation of the skills to accomplish the task.  At the season’s start, our girls, as a team, didn’t know they didn’t know, so they just outran everyone and found the net.  But, with the coaches’ intervention and guidance we got them so trained that they worked too hard at implementation of what we asked that they lost that ‘unconscious’ ability to play.  That’s OK with me.  Winning on ability can only go so far.  Sooner or later skills must come into play, and if our girls’ working on skills caused a few lost games, so be it.  There was never selfishness to their play, but we could see the calculation of the moves in them.  In fact, they weren’t hogging the ball; they were over-passing.  Or working too long on their moves or positions.  The Cherry Bombs were stuck on step 2 above for a period of 4 games.

 

That’s why we’re here – to learn.  Step 2 is our purpose in this.  If we reach step 3 by season’s end, the campaign was a winner.  Our girls learned.  I think they learned more this season than in any season prior.  The girl I noted above who walked onto the field not knowing her left from her right walked off with one of the best outside cuts on the team.  In the first game of the season she was all over the field; by season’s end she played her positions perfectly.  She scored and played excellent defense.  Now she, and so many of our players, are turning heads at the All Star practices and games.

 

The final two games of the year showed we coaches just how far our girls had come.  We held our opponents scoreless and left the field demonstrating that we had achieved the final step.  The entire team played at a higher level, implementing skills unconsciously, thereby becoming not just a group of fast girls playing soccer, but rather a group of fast soccer players.

 

At the season’s end, we’d developed into a fearsome soccer team.  I wouldn’t have wanted to play a team like us in the season final…

 

Initially coach Scott & I had our doubts.  Between the early season flower fights and the announcements of Santa Claus flying overhead near the end of the season at practice we wondered if any of them listened.  One particular day when I was delivering one of my patented tongue-lashings about focus and effort the unabashed goofiness of this group as a whole came out.  One player started laughing, and the entire team ended up busting out in hysterics.  Scott & I couldn’t help snickering too, and the practice fell apart into a comical scrimmage with more jokes told and played that any focus on soccer.

 

That’s what I loved about this group this season – win or lose we had a ton of fun.  That’s why we’re out here; for the fun of it all.

 

So in my book it was mission accomplished.  The girls learned and we all had a real good time.  (I know, the grammar isn’t correct there, but I like the way it sounds)  We posted a 7 & 4 record, losing 3 of the 4 games by 1 goal.  The most amazing statistic of the season – we gave up only 3 goals in play all year.  3 in play goals surrendered in 11 games – WOW!  Unbelievable defense! Unfortunately we also coughed up 4 on penalties – something to work on next year.  I’m currently proud of the way all our girls are playing in the All-Star games.  The coach there has been impressed by our young ladies and noted it on numerous occasions.

 

We should all be proud of our ‘Bombs, individually and as a team.

 

In closing, I want to thank all the parents of the Cherry Bombs.  Your sideline demeanor was above & beyond expectations even through some unexpected situations, and your support of the girls made this a memorable season.  Each and every Cherry Bomb player gave it their all, and I hope we can all do it again next year.  Sooner than we think, the carousel of time will wind past this stage of our lives.  Most of these girls will grow up & out of this, so I cherish these moments.

 

Happy Holidays!

 

Coach Rob