I recently coached a team of little kids in a big soccer tournament. I’ve been the assistant coach for three summers, and we’ve been consistently terrible. This year, I was the head coach and I made a few changes, most of which consisted of teaching the more skilled kids a few basic tactics as well as the concept of positioning.
It paid off rather nicely, as for the first time we managed to knock off the always-dominant heavyweights, the children’s adjunct of a professional team. Since they beat us 12-0 last year, they were shocked to get knocked off 4-2 in the first group game. We went undefeated the rest of the way, and had to meet them again in the finals. They were even more surprised when our best scorer didn’t drive straight towards the goal when he had the ball in the open, but instead lured the goalie and two defenders towards him then slipped a pass across the middle for an easy goal by one of his teammates. It was the game’s only goal.
For me, the best part was seeing the happiness in one little boy’s face, whose father – a divorced European professional player – had flown in to see him play. The boy doesn’t see his father very often, so I named him captain for the tournament and started him although he’s usually a substitute. He really put on a show in return, scoring a lovely goal in the first game, crossing the ball for a headed goal in the semifinals, and getting the team out of trouble in front of our own goal with an incredible step-on-the-ball-and-spin move that somehow evaded two opposing players in the finals. He is eight years old.
When the whistle blew, you would have thought from the kids’ reaction that we won the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the NBA Finals combined. I have no patience for those parents who attempt to live their lives vicariously through their children, but there is something to be said for being reminded, even for a brief shining moment, of a time when small and simple things could fill our hearts with such utter joy.