“Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.”
—John Madden, Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (1969-78)
I laughed. I knew he was kidding. Kind of. But it still stung because I was the head coach. The leader of a recreational all girls soccer team. The one who looks forward to teaching soccer fundamentals and teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level the girls are at. That's why everyone always gets a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season.
And it's always a big plus to have really involved parents that feel the same way, even after the other team runs up the score on you.
"No, the headline reads: The Tigers play hard and have fun!" I replied.
He laughed. Kind of. Maybe a little uncomfortably. After he walked away I realized that not one girl on our team asked me what the final score was. I wasn't sure what that meant, if anything, but the year before half the team asked me each and every game.
But we won many games the year before. Most of them actually. We're really not supposed to keep score, nor keep a tally of wins and losses, but I still do. I'm humble about it, though. But I just can't help it either way -- I grew up playing more competitively even at an early age. The same age as the girls on our U10 soccer team, eight and nine year olds. There were more girls who'd played multiple years prior to last season, with a few going on to play competitively.
This year our team is full of raw talent, with fewer of them having played prior to this year. And that's okay. That's what I wanted. Why I wanted to coach starting three years ago. Why I now have two other amazing coaches this year to help me. I had only played soccer in junior high school decades earlier, but I knew that no matter what sport our girls wanted to play, if they wanted to play, and if it was something I could actually coach. It was stretch for me considering my sport was American football, not the rest of the world's fútbol.
I'm all about the stretch assignment, however. All about pushing myself to learn something new while helping to instill new skills in others including personal leadership and teamwork. It my sound a little campy to the cynics out there, but it's true. And because our oldest Beatrice wanted to give soccer a go a few years ago -- and still wants to play three years later -- that's a win in my book.
Like our oldest, who doesn't have the same affinity to sports like soccer as our youngest does, but who also after three years of a big heart and who works hard. And it's certainly paid off -- watching her dribble and drive and defend and shoot like it's nobody's business makes us really proud. Makes me really proud being her coach and her father.
Because that's what it's all about for me -- for every single girl on the team. Which is why it was hard to hear in the last game the following:
"Coach, can you tell the team not to give me a hard time? It was just a mistake I made. Everybody makes them."
This coming from another play who had accidentally kicked the ball into our own goal, thinking she was kicking it to our goalie.
So during halftime, I reminded the team to cheer each other on when we do something good and to support each other when we don't. That we'll get it the next time. Because we'll always make mistakes and because there's always a next time.
Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.
That's right. There's always a next time, which if one of the hardest lessons we have to continuously learn, both as kids and adults. We may lose every single game, but in the end the headline will always read:
"Tigers are winners!"