As I mentioned earlier this week, for a few months a year I don an alter ego as “Coach Jack.” In all honesty, this is a bit of misnomer as it is the opposite of “alter” and all about “ego.” When I’m on the soccer field with “my girls” I’m as inherent as a forty-something guy with a mortgage can be. There is a reward that comes after walking that undefined line and pushing a player beyond their comfort zone to a point where they may be rather unimpressed you, only to watch them accomplish things they did not know they could do. When you laugh with the player later, the bond is stronger and unequaled by many things in life. During the times mentioned above, I am quite confident the name they are calling me is not, Coach Jack. When a breakthrough finally happens that I help instigate, it makes everything right. It provides a feeling of invincibility that lasts until the next 12-year-old puts you in your place.
During my tenure as Coach Jack, there have been many players that have fueled and fed this drive along the way. There was Danny of course, my nephew, who started it all. He was the first person that caused me to be simultaneously angry and proud when he passed the ball in front of an open net so that a teammate could score his first goal. In that same era, there was “Rachel Defense.” An eight-year-old girl that had a natural ability for timing and position that caused many a young man to rethink his future in soccer. I think of “Ella the Goalie,” a dainty 9-year-old girl with bows in her hair that wanted nothing more than to be the last line of defense for her team. By the end of the season after bumps, bruises and tears she learned her craft and stopped a point-blank shot in the championship game that earned her my eternal gratitude. There was Caroline, who’s parents told me “she should play defense because she’s more comfortable when the ball rolls towards her and all she has to do is kick it.” Two years later, mid-way through the season, Caroline was our leading scorer. These players and many others* pushed me to be the best coach I can be. (*This short list intentionally omits current players, but I promise there are many more examples published in my tell-all novel.) There is one player however that in my eyes has a highlight reel all to herself.
Her drive to compete second only to her overzealous coach. She (and her smaller, but an equally important partner in crime) unknowingly push me not only to be a better coach but to be a better person.
As a coach you are not supposed to play favorites but I unabashedly admit, #10 is one of two very favorite players who has ever walked on a soccer field. And it’s not just because of this moment:
Championship Game – Score tied 0-0. :30 seconds left.
She doesn’t have things easy. She’s the coach’s kid. Every team has one. It’s the kid who has to be at every practice early and stays past the last player has been picked up. The player that has to perform with higher expectations than the others to get praise, so it does not look like the coach is playing favorites. They don’t get to leave practice or a game “on the field”. There is the talk of the team or strategy all week long. This
player that is forced to play goalie, or offensive line or any other potentially undesirable position because the coach can’t put other players in situations where he or she would not put their child. Other factors make this role more difficult. The big loud guy who yells a lot is not always the most popular guy on the field. He or she is an easy target for peer ridicule. That’s not easy to hear. And lastly, but certainly not least, the coach can and will say things to this player that are a bit more direct and possibly cutting. They do this because…. well… there is no good reason. It just happens, and I’m sorry it does.
Julia, #10, is that player for me. She had to stay in the goal long after the other girls who wanted to try it realized it wasn’t always fun. Without complaining, she accepted her fate and put in extra time outside of regular
practice to learn the position. Now, even though it’s not her first choice when she plays in the nets with a confidence that makes me nervous and an ability that makes my voice crack when I congratulate her on a save. Other instances seem to have left a scar. Such as the time that despite having scored two goals in the first half and making, at least, ten saves in the second half, she was not awarded the “Game Orange” because another girl had yet to receive such an honor. This offense took place five seasons ago. I’m not sure of the shelf life for this atrocity. In the time since then, I am fairly sure I could have grown an orange tree or two that would have repaid my debt several times over.
#10 turns 13 today. It’s gone by in a flash. She’s been #10 since her grandfather first held her and proclaimed her a perfect 10 for being the tenth grandchild. I wish I could say that I remember every game, every moment she had made my life special, but that would be impossible. This morning I tried to explain that I not only love her because she’s my daughter which is almost mandatory, I like her and truly enjoy being around her. She was quick to remind me that she was now 13, and that may change. Both of our statements may be true. Time will tell. But I for the time being she’s one of my favorite people to talk with and spend time.
She’s an incredible big sister and a daughter that makes Patty and me proud every day. She does a spot on Dad impression, has a creative mind that connects unrelated topics with ease and an ability to make me laugh almost on command. She is intelligent, caring, giving and compassionate for most of her waking hours. However, once she crosses the sideline to walk on the field, she’s a five foot, three inches, blonde haired, blue eyed, ball of Catholic school girl fury in a Lululemon headband.
The name “Coach Jack” is a natural extension of my personality. Thirteen
years ago today, #10 joined my team. She gave me the name “Dad”, and suddenly my entire world changed in ways I could not possibly have imagined. I am a very fortunate man in many ways. Two amazing kids call me this name every day (they also use Mac Daddy, which is acceptable and maybe even encouraged). Granted, the name Dad is not always said in the most positive light. Much like the situation above, when a player is pushed out of their comfort zone, the method to the madness is not always understood or appreciated. When it’s a
parent that’s causing the discomfort, the irritation to the child is magnified. That’s ok with me; they can say whatever they want as long as they call me Dad. I’ve answered to many nicknames in my life, but Dad is the name that I am most proud. I’m more than willing to tell everyone why.
Happy Birthday, Julia. We love you. Dad, Mom and Aidan.