Blog-buddy Joe (aka Cranky Old Man) inspired this post. His memories of the "good old days" took me back, not to the days of my youth, but to the days of my kids' youth. So to speak.
Once upon a time (in this galaxy, for those who need to know) I was assigned to Germany. The family and I packed up our stuff and went off to Europe and the land of the Best Beer on the Planet. (If you wish to debate that, fine. But I'll stand my ground on this, Germany brews the best beer on the Third Rock from the Sun. Though YMMV. Technically Guinness is a "stout", so it's apples and oranges.) Now where was I? Oh yeah, Germany.
When spring came, the progeny played baseball and softball. The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe attended nearly every game of all three kids, sometimes not both in the same place. Perhaps I would be at the Nuke's and WSO's game, the Missus Herself would be at the Naviguesser's game. Or vice versa. We made some excellent friends at these affairs and generally had an excellent time.
Then came the fall. The progeny decided that they wanted to play what we Yanks call soccer, what our British cousins call football and what the Germans call fußball. Worth noting (for your cultural edification) that funky "ß" letter is a critter foreign to our alphabet, it's called an esszett, or sharp "S". Think of a double "s" when you see that, or fussball if you will. Being a (ahem) purist, I'll stick with fußball.
So, the kids want to play fußball, and of course this involves arising on a Saturday morn at some ungodly hour for to haul the kinder to base for "tryouts". For those who don't know it, I am not a real big fan of getting up early. I like the night, I like to stay up late and howl at the moon from time to time. At any rate, we arose early of a Saturday and trooped out to the family Volkswagen and drove to the base. (Volkswagen is in italics because I pronounce it as a German would, none of that Volks-wagon business. It's pronounced "folks-vagen", so I render it Volkswagen. Like I said, I'm a purist. Uh no, that doesn't rhyme with "anal-retentive but thank you for asking. Grrrrr.)
So we went to tryouts and had a pretty good time. Like many a German day, it dawned misty and a bit damp. So the air, the grass, the trees, everything - was damp, if not downright wet. Upon returning to the family schloß (castle) we all proceeded to dry off, change clothes, etc. etc. I went up to take a shower.
Upon returning from my ablutions I was informed by the progeny that I was now the proud owner of my very own soccer team (er, I mean fußball team. D'oh! Nah, I'll go with the USA version from now on, after all, I'm an American!)
"Uh, when did this happen?" I queried the children.
"While you were in the shower Captain Pita* stopped by and wanted to know if you'd like to coach a team. We told him yes. Yeah! You're my Coach Daddy!" said the Nuke.
Yes, I was now, officially, the Nuke's soccer coach. (The WSO didn't play that year and the Naviguesser, being older, was on a different team.)
Well, the Nuke and about 10 other kids. Co-ed. Boys and girls. Ranging in age (initially) from about 8 to 10. That later expanded from 5 to 11. You'll see how in a few moments.
Of course, I did ask the Nuke what possessed her to volunteer me as a coach.
"Well Dad, you told me you used to play soccer so I figured you'd know how to coach us. Also, isn't it great that you get to coach me?" she asked, eyelashes all a-flutter and cutesy-like. I had to admit that, logic-wise, her argument was without flaw. Besides which, it might be fun.
Well, first day of practice came and I was resolved that I was going to be a "fun" coach. Stern and demanding at times but with a certain Puckish wit to be sure. (None of the kids remotely understood that last reference, but I digress.)
The skills of these kids were all over the place. But I quickly discovered a secret which I will share with you now. Bear in mind, this was a co-ed team. Now girls at that age are very attentive and work really hard. Boys at that age? Meh. If you can get them to pay attention for more than five seconds, it's a wonder. But the secret to being a good coach for kids of that age, is get the girls to do something and do it fairly well. Like I said, they pay attention and work really hard. Then tell the boys, "Hey, if you can't do it, I understand. I'll get Sally to do it." Then the boys will fall all over themselves trying to outdo the girls. Until they see something shiny in the grass. Or a jet flies over. Then you start over again.
Eventually my team grew by leaps and bounds to span the age group I mentioned above. We also, eventually, had 16 kids. As I look back on it, they were all really great kids. They tried their best, every game and for every minute of every game. We laughed with each other. Practices were semi-organized scrimmages, parents versus kids on occasion. Picture every game as a big family outing. We were nearly invincible.
We played 19 games that year. Because we had so many kids on the roster, we could outrun and outlast the other teams from dawn 'til dusk. We would just wear them down. I could have 8 fresh kids on the field most of the time (we played 8 on 8 on a small field). The kids were like those packs of African hunting dogs. Steady and persistent. Damn, were they persistent!
So why did I have so many kids on the team? Did the other teams have the same? No. I had more because some parents always showed up late for registration and the other coaches didn't want to take on any new kids. The sports director on our base (a very nice German lady named Ingrid) knew that I would take them. The idea was to have a good time. The other coaches took things far too seriously.
Our last game of the season was against a team who were undefeated. Their coach (I later learned) got to handpick his kids every year, with the complicity of certain parents. I guess with some people if you can win by cheating or bending the rules, it's just as good as playing "fair and square". I never felt that way.
So here's this team. Now their big player that year was a German kid, Marcus. Most of the kids in the league were US and Canadian, the European kids all played off base in the German and Dutch kids' leagues. Those were some serious leagues. But this one German kid also liked baseball. He had many friends who played baseball and soccer so he decided to play in the soccer league on base. Let me tell you, the kid was one helluva an athlete. Great soccer player and (oddly enough) an even better baseball player.
So this kid pretty much carried whatever team he was on. If you had him, you won.
We didn't have him. But I had what I liked to call my secret weapon. Her name was Chevonne. She could run like a deer, corner like a very expensive sports car and had the brains of an Einstein. Before the second game we played Marcus's team, I told her, "Chevonne, I want you to cover Marcus, one on one, the entire game. Don't let him get the ball. If anyone can stay with him. It's you."
It worked, for most of the game. Marcus was frustrated and you could see it in his face and in his play. Chevonne was stuck to him like she was his second shadow. Until it happened.
A pass to Marcus down near our goal, one of our more awkward players gets in Chevonne's way. She is screened now. Marcus sees he's free of his shadow, he shoots, he scores.
One - nil.
Chevonne is devastated. I told her, "Not your fault kiddo, ya got screened, Marcus had like a two second opening, that's all he needs".
Game back on. You can see Chevonne is working even harder than before. Marcus waves to the sidelines for a breather. He goes out. I ask Chevonne if she needs a break.
"I'm good Coach, I'm good. Leave me in." Alright, play on.
Did I mention that I've also got these two Canadian brothers on the team? No. Well, I did. Both were really good players, but the older one was unbelievable. He was our top scorer all year. I seem to recall his name was Matt. (Though I could be wrong, it was over 20 years ago.)
So Marcus is on the sidelines, watching, about to come back in. Chevonne steals the ball and takes it up field. Makes a nice pass to Matt. He shoots. He scores!
One - one.
Marcus comes back out. Chevonne is now completely neutralizing him. Though we don't score again, neither do they. Whistle blows, game over. It's a tie.
Our kids act like they've won the World Cup. Their kids act like the world just ended. It was the only game the didn't win all season. The only blemish on their otherwise perfect record.
It was a fun season. We finished the year with 13 wins, 3 ties and 3 losses. We had a lot of fun. But it had been a long season. I was glad I had done it, but I was pretty sure I didn't want to do it again.
Until we had our banquet after the season. When the youngest kid on the team looked at me and asked,
"That was so much fun. I can't wait until next year. Can I be on your team again, Coach?"Did I return to coach the next year? You bet I did. And every year we were in Germany. We had a blast. I had really good teams every year. No hand selecting of this kid or that kid. We played by the rules. And we had success. The key is to have fun. The kids had fun, I had fun. Teach 'em up, then let 'em run. They'll figure it out.
I've had a lot of titles over the years. But this one is my favorite -
Pita is an acronym, stands for "pain in the..." well you get it.
Obviously it was not the Captain's real name. And in reality he
was an awesome guy. I just needed something to call him here.
"Pita" seemed both humorous and somewhat appropriate,
given the circumstances.