Most of Elliott’s friends who are still enthusiastic about soccer play for Academy teams. These days kids are pressed early on to either be dedicated athletes or former athletes. To me it seems a big life decision for someone who still needs help cutting his waffles, but it’s just the way it is.
Parents pay wads of money for expert coaching and three or four training sessions a week. (Serious practice is called “training,” by the way). Elliott played on an Academy team for one season and quickly learned he didn’t want to train that much. Nor did he relish forfeiting his entire weekend to tournaments in places like Fayetteville any more than we did.
Elliott is a pretty good player, though, so I’m happy he didn’t give it up entirely. He’s back to playing at recreation level, but now we’re in a weird place where the kids know the game better than the parents. I’ll coach basketball again this winter, but, knowing my limitations, I self-demoted to helper-dad status for soccer a few years ago. I don’t know where to lay out the cones or what they should do in and around said cones. Is emailing parents to organize post-game snacks still a thing? I really don’t even care to know.
Well, as it turns out, not many people are super eager to coach a ragtag group of 12-year-old soccer players, entertaining as they are. My inner dialogue had to be shoved aside because my buddy Eytan and I are now coaching the 14U Vipers this season. Yay? Someone had to. It’s a legal requirement or something. My status as an adult with a pulse and no criminal record really sealed the job for me. The silver lining is that all the other parents now owe us FOR LIFE.
The boys have aged out of the YMCA league so now we’re governed by Georgia Soccer, which is very organized, even if our style of play isn’t quite so. New this year: Laminated ID cards, official game sheets and humorless referees. I’ve learned to navigate my way around a complicated administrator/coach-y website. The schedule page has the overwhelming aesthetic of the baggage claim board at Hartsfield-Jackson. Sorting through the cacophony, I noticed we are the only team with the childish inclination to still name themselves after a fierce animal. I tend to doubt “HCSA Mendez 14U-B Green” was intimidated when they saw “Vipers” on their schedule.
Eytan and I have been running basketball drills in practice under the premise that proper spacing and ball control applies to both sports and we can just switch out hands for feet. This may explain why as of this writing, The Vipers are 0-2 with a goal differential of -12 but hey, look at me, I just used the term “goal differentia.l” In lieu of actual strategy, I might steal a Waffle House menu and some reader glasses to look like one of those sage NFL coaches.
The other teams are bigger, stronger and when it comes to nascent facial hair, we lose in a landslide. A couple kids on our squad have never even played competitively before. One mom asked, “what are those things, you know, that go in the socks?” You mean feet? (More useless inner dialogue). Shin guards—the correct answer is shin guards.
But I like our guys and we are improving. We don’t have any future MLS players, heck, we probably don’t even have anyone who will try out for their high school team in a couple years. But what we do have is perhaps a little purer than that. Kids enjoying their youth for another season, playing simply because they love the game and parents who recognize how important that is. Accolades and college scholarships may not be forthcoming but good memories and friendships are already here. Let’s call it a positive goal differential. Go Vipers.
Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at email@example.com.