Before embarking upon this blog post, you may want to listen to the words below in song.  Reading them, they don't flow well, but the ranting will make more sense if you read or listen to the song first.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUKbxbmpcwU

I can remember when you fit in the palm of my hand
Felt so good in it, no bigger than a minute
How it amazes me, you're changing with every blink
Faster than a flower blooms, they grow up all too soon

So let them be little, 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh, just let them be little

I've never felt so much, in one little tender touch
I live for those kisses, prayers and your wishes
Now that you're teaching me things only a child can see
Every night while we're on our knees, all I ask is please

Let them be little, 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

So innocent, a precious soul, you turn around
It's time to let them go

So let them be little, 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

Let them be little
Billy Dean

 

And so ends another soccer season for my kids (along with flag football, volleyball, fall baseball, and more)

Like waters proceeding down the course of a river, the moments of this season have been lived and cherished but are now passing by nonetheless.  As my fingers type we’re 31 days from a new year, and I know it was just yesterday that I sat in the harbor at Catalina after pulling lobster hoops on New Year’s Eve 2012, in what has become a tradition with my childhood friend Mike and his wife Vicki.  I'll be there again sooner than I'd expected...

Yep - the earth has made another trip around the sun and the river of life proceeds on its inevitable course, with the stops along the way becoming more distant in recollection.  As I am swept along by the currents, I am truly thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to drop my anchor and simply take it all in.  Oh, I’ve wished so many times that the hook would hold fast and I could stay in some of my favorite spots longer, but the river is resolute in eroding the hold my anchor takes on the bottom and I’m loosed too soon to continue along the winding banks as the waters carry me forth.

The mooring spots make it worthwhile though; those stops are memories, frozen moments in time.  Some are vivid in recollection and some meld across my mind and heart like blended and faded collages; not distinct in detail but still poignant.  Yet in either case the stops slow the current down.  I am grateful for these points of memory as I think where kids growing up is concerned, we’re often too intent on speeding up the process.

I have shared one of the stories below in the past with others, but I don’t know that I’ve put it to words.  If you’ve read it before I apologize.  I’ll keep it short just in case.

Toys R Us is a mooring spot where I realize just how far the current has taken me.  My kids (like yours I’m sure) used to beg for trips there; now my daughter could care less about going and the place that was once so magical for my son has limited allure.  But each of them created special memories for me there…

My daughter Ashley was probably 10, and my son Jake and I were in another part of the store (I know what some of you are thinking - great parenting – allowing your 10 year old daughter out of sight in a big store – I’m a  failure as a dad – live with it).  I came around the aisle to see her standing in front of some kind of little girl toy – I don’t know what it was – some Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Pony thing or something like that, and it wasn’t ‘what’ it was specifically that was so heart-wrenching to me.  It was what she did with the toy.  The toy was obviously oriented to girls much younger than Ashley, but she stood back from it and reached out and touched it with such tenderness…  She didn’t hold it close, but rather treasured it from afar at arm’s length.  Her head cocked sideways, as if remembering what it had been like to be 6 or 7, without a care in the world.  Now grown up and a big girl, such a plaything was beneath her.  But it was beautiful; eye-catching and fun-looking, and as she stood I could see the longing for a time that had been in her big brown eyes.  Eventually she took her hand off the toy and moved on.  Continuing down her own river, with the toy she would have once loved behind her…

Likewise, I had a moment with Jake at the store.  He’d received a Toys R Us gift certificate somewhere and with incessant requests for Dad’s cab service to be activated we found ourselves again in the aisles surrounded by what we adults see as Chinese manufactured crap, but to the kids is a cornucopia of life’s most desired treasures.  I think Jake was about 8.  His eye was drawn to a large toy dinosaur called the “Screecher”.  It was a battery powered piece of plastic that did nothing but stand and scream at high volume, serving no purpose other than to be annoying to all but the 8 & under crowd.  “Dad, can I get the Screecher?  It looks so cool,” he asked.  It was his gift certificate, not mine.  Yet I knew better, as all parents do, that the “Screecher” was a toy for kids younger than my son.  He’d bring it home, we’d install the batteries, it would squeal for a short time as he played with it, and the dinosaur would be packed away and donated within a year.  My son was turning into a big-guy; the “Screecher” was a toddler toy and he was far too advanced for such a childish thing.  I, being the petulant voice of reason, steered Jake to another part of the store where the “big-guy” items such as footballs, baseball gear, and basketballs awaited.  With the promise of future development of my son leading to glory on the courts and fields beckoning, we picked something from there out.  With his head down, he obliged and we left the store with sporting equipment instead of what he really wanted.

The “Screecher” was quickly forgotten by Jake, yet I have failed miserably at deleting the memory of the noisy little beast.  The plastic, screaming T-Rex now means so much more than it being just an idiot-ass toy.  A few days ago a Toys R Us flyer came to the house and I saw Jake looking through it with minimal interest; he now prefers the sporting goods circulars with the $350 Little League bats (arrgghhh)!  So as he was perusing the sheet of playthings, I asked him – “Hey Jake, do you ever wish we’d bought the “Screecher” that time at Toys R Us?”  He replied, “Dad, that was a baby toy.  You were right; I didn’t need it.”  With deeper thought on the matter, how I wish we’d come home with the “Screecher”…  In forcing my son to grow up a bit, I feel that a bit of his youth was stolen that day by me.

The stories could go on; not just from me but from any of us with kids.  As the river flows incessantly onward youth and the blissful innocence of childhood is lost.

The immortal Jimmy Buffett coined a song-line – “The river gets deeper not shallower, the further you move down the stream; wondering if I can keep her, as I race to catch up with my dreams.”

Being a literary pirate I’ll steal the line and paraphrase it to – “The river gets deeper not shallower, the further we move down the stream; wondering how long we’ll keep them, as they race to catch up with their dreams…”

I’ve watched my daughter grow into an early-stage teenager.  It’s been a miraculous and mysterious ride.  Now my son faces, or I should rephrase that I face, a similar transformation at his level.  The details of the metamorphosis would be too lengthy to post here – I will make an allusion below but that will be a generalization and not an event specific to my son.  I’ll only note for the record and for suggestion that we let them be little…

This year’s soccer team was unlike any other.  Having coached quite a few sports teams now, I can safely say that every team is different.  There are many I’ll never forget - last year’s team is on the list – the emotional scars mixed with the beaming smiles of that campaign will forever be with me.  Another is a particular girls’ team that never seemed to be 'together' yet went undefeated against much tougher competition - they'll always remain a favorite too.  

And this year’s Under 12 boys’ team will be right there with my top choices.

For all, here is The 2013 Gladiators soccer team!

Every year in late summer I am handed a roster of players from our soccer club. No one says, “Here it is.  Good luck!” but that’s how it feels.  We have a good number of players who have requested they be on my team, and a good number who are assigned.  Returning players know what to expect, but for newcomers to the team (players and parents alike) joining my team can be mildly shocking.

I’ll never forget a little girl who landed on my team by assignment many years ago.  At our first practice, she was huffing and trying desperately to catch her breath and near tears as she cried, “My old coach never made me run like this!”  My response was “How many games did you win last year?”  She replied in between her panting, “None!”  I assured her with, “Young lady, I guarantee you will win at least one game this year!  Now run!”  We went on to go 10-1 that season, and the little girl was one of our top players.  She was with me for 4 years before I left the girls’ side of soccer coaching, and will always remain a favorite of mine.

On this year’s boys’ team, our practice efforts were similarly shocking to a few of the new players.  We work harder than most teams.  Our practices are physically demanding.  We blend the building of stamina, skills, and speed to mold our boys into the best possible players individually, and thereby end up with the best possible team with the players we have.  Winning is never the goal at the start of the season.  Development of the player’s skills is my objective. Winning is a by-product; a result of achieving the goal of building the players individually.  And to build those players stamina, skills, and speed takes work.  A few of our boys were unaccustomed to the level of work demanded and I saw more than a few “What the #*!X?” expressions on faces as we dribbled, ran, passed, scrapped, and ran some more.  Pleas for “water!” were answered by my favorite line (again stolen, from ‘Remember the Titans’) – “Water makes you weak!”  A few of the boys were overheard mumbling their disapproval of the pace and work we were putting in, and I even heard a few threats of quitting.

Well, as it turned out nobody quit and the boys survived the preseason practices and went into the regular season a solid team.  We knew we had talent and we knew we had some developing players in the lineup, but that’s the way every team is.  I anticipated that our season would be fun.  I knew we’d win a few and anticipated we’d lose a few too.

The whistle blew, the ball was kicked-off, and the games began!

And The Gladiators won game 1!  It was close, but the boys pulled off a win. Then they took game 2.  The boys’ first and only loss of the season was in Game 3, a 2-1 heartbreaker that was as much (or more) a coaching defeat than a loss by the players on the field.  This was a terrific loss for my kids, and for me. We saw what we needed to work on, and we went to work!

The rest of the season was fun.  There were electrifying moments where goals were scored or shots defended by the boys in the final seconds to pull out wins, and almost every game was close and exciting to the final whistle.  The boys avenged their loss with a thrilling victory over the only team to hand them defeat. The Gladiators would not lose again, finishing with a league best 9-1-1 record!

Individual accolades were deservedly handed out at the team party so I won’t belabor the point of my pride in each and every player’s contributions here.  I’ll only go on to stress, once again, my admiration of all of the players on the Gladiators’ squad.  As noted previously, winning is merely a by-product.  The learning, practicing, and application of skills coupled with increased stamina and strength creates a winning team.  Regardless of our team’s record, if the boys had improved I’d consider the season successful.

The telling point for the team came in week 9 of the season when our two top players were out of the lineup with flu and injury.  Our remaining boys stepped up and put a 3-0 whuppin’ on one of the best teams in the division.  Prior to that game I’ll admit I had my doubts about what we’d accomplished as a team – certainly we had only one loss, but I was not feeling the boys had progressed to the level I’d hoped they would attain.  As is usually the case, the kids came out and proved my fears wrong by playing a masterful game.  The make-up of the Gladiators team changed during this match.  Each player grew in confidence that day; there was a bit of swagger at practice and more than a bit of extra effort put forth on the field.  So while I would never wish sickness or injury on any player, the circumstances that came upon us were actually beneficial to the boys individually, and thereby beneficial to the team.

Thanks are due to Coach Harry – his input at practices and help with adjustments on the field during games was invaluable.  And thanks to all the parents of Gladiators players – it’s a lot of work to get the boys to practices and games.  Most parents have other kids & activities too, and I appreciate the commitment of all to make our season a success.  Thanks to all - it's a team effort! 

It’s over now.  We’ll move on to whatever comes next for the boys.  We’ll get an Indoor Soccer team together.  Some of the boys will be playing All Stars for Crusaders.  Baseball is just around the corner.  I’ll coach the OLG Girls varsity team (where I’ll have the privilege of having some of the region’s and even nation’s best players on the team – I generally have to try to keep the score down with this group).  We’ll all move on.

Some will be back in the U-12 division next year, and those who wish to continue with me will move up to U-14.  All are welcome.  I love these guys, and hope the bonds formed may endure beyond the soccer field.

For me, the 2013 Gladiators season is one that will be forever memorable.  It’ll be one of the ‘anchor points’ in the river that is my life.  The record they gave me was one of the best I’ve had as a coach; if anyone had told me at the start of the season we’d finish with one loss I’d have scoffed at the notion.  Again, the tenacity and grit of the boys has proven my beliefs wrong.

The group came in as a pack of goofy little guys playing kickball, and left as a pack of goofy little soccer players.  I know that some parents feel that there is a bit of discipline lacking in my coaching style, and probably more so this season than any in the past.  That’s purposeful, and OK with me.  They can grow up on their parent’s time.  On my time, I’ll let them be little, ‘cause they’re only that way for a while…


Just when you thought I was done with my rants…

I cannot end this without a quick shout-out to my daughter’s team.  Ashley played with the Matrix competitive team in La Mesa and they had a stellar season, going undefeated in the Presidio League until the final game of the season where, with the league title wrapped up, they dropped their guard and lost a 1-0 squeaker.  Watching Ashley’s team play and attending practices played a huge part in working with the boys too.  Her coaches Don & Paula may not have known it, but I pirated ideas from their program to apply to mine.  Here are the Matrix girls with one of their tournament trophies!  As seasons go, these girls had a great one!


So we’re on now to different things.  May the Holiday Season & New Year be the best for all of you!


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