By: Emma Johnston
This past summer I had the brilliant idea that I should coach soccer. I’ve coached t-ball and taught swimming, but soccer was a new adventure. When I heard they were looking for coaches, something pricked my conscience and without a second thought, I signed my name on the dotted line.
What a wonderful opportunity I thought to myself. My youngest, then almost five, would be on my team. I could meet her little friends, I could chat with the parents, I could get out and exercise and take in the summer evening sunlight. I’d teach these kids to love soccer, to run hard and improve their skills. We’d win games and give it our all. It would be a pure delight to coach the junior Teal Coloured soccer team!
My first practice I was ready. I’d read every coaching manual, I’d learned the rules of the game (something I had no idea of before I signed up), I bought oranges and yogurt tubes and juice boxes – I was ready!
Twelve kids, five and under gathered around my little blue bench the first evening of practice, all big eyes and shiny new cleats. It hadn’t been more than about 11 seconds before I started to wonder what on earth I’d signed up for. We had one little girl who loved to run away, one who loved to practice her gymnastics whenever she got near a goal post. I had one little boy who would only play if no one chased him, and another who only came for the snacks.
Immediately the chaos ensued. Jumping, rolling, yelling, laughing children, all taking off in different directions, all telling me different stories while we tried to run in a somewhat organized jumble down the field. By the end of the first night I’d lost 10 pounds, drank 3 gallons of water and had completely lost my voice.
By the second week, a blessed mother took pity on me and joined me out on the field. The two of us spent week after week, trying to play something that looked like soccer – though more often than not it looked like two momma’s chasing twelve children around the park.
Anyone who has ever coached little ones in any sport may realize that it’s more of a lesson in futility than a time to impart genuine skill. By the end of week two our goal was to keep all the kids in the general vicinity of the field – that was it. And by about the third or fourth week, I was getting discouraged. I didn’t know if the kids were having fun, I knew for a fact (even though we don’t keep score) that we weren’t winning any of our games, and I wondered how ridiculous I must look to those parents who watched us on the side lines. I wondered if maybe they were appalled at the ridiculous volunteers our community accepted to coach their adorable children soccer – and I had a glimpse of self doubt.
But then, one evening, as we were running down the field, a child holding on to each of my hands and one doing summersaults in front of me, something happened. One of the little ones beside me, a beautiful little girl with giant brown eyes and a bobbing ponytail, let go of my hand and ran off the field. I watched her run towards a little cluster of dandelions, and I figured I’d lost another one to the distractions of the playground. Within a minute she was back at my side. “Coach Emma” she said, slipping her little fingers back in mine and running along side me. “I picked these for you.” She handed me a stunning bouquet of bright yellow dandelions. I asked what they were for and she told me to put them in my hair, that they were a present for me, because “she loved running with me.”
I grinned down at that big, innocent smile and stuck the weeds in my hair.
Here I was thinking I was coaching soccer. That I should share some kind of skill or athletic ability with these kids. That maybe these kids should learn the rules of the sport or engage with the ball or learn to love the game. But – I think I was just there to play. Just to show up and run. To have a smile and encouraging voice. To hold a little girl’s hand and show them all how much fun we could have.
I realized that sweltering hot evening, while covered in sweat and mutilated yellow weeds, that sometimes, we don’t really need to be great – we don’t need to have that much skill or have it all together, sometimes the greatest thing anyone of us can do – is simply, show up.
This little girl wasn’t happy because I had taught her something astounding about soccer. She wasn’t impressed by how fast I could run or if I could score a goal. She didn’t care if I knew the rules of the game or whether I had any idea what I was doing. She liked running with me, that was it. Just the fact that I was there was good enough for her.
It had never occurred to me before that simply ‘being there’ was in and of itself a great gift to offer. Whether that’s for our kids at soccer or for our friends in times of need, or for our family members, apparently just being there, whether we know what we’re doing or not, can mean everything to someone else! We need to show up, be present, engage, that is a gift, no matter what our ability, we can offer to each other.
So this year, I will sign my name on that dotted line and coach again, even if its just for a crumpled yellow dandelion, I plan to always, keep on showing up!