T1 is a very good athlete. The boys’ dad played college football and they both inherited a high level of natural athletic ability from both their parents, but T1 really enjoys sports in a way that T2 doesn’t.
T1 is one of those people who you can explain the basics of a sport to him and in twenty minutes he will be at least good and very often very good at it. He played hockey when he was younger, but since we moved to Virginia he has started two sports that he previously hadn’t participated in- lacrosse and football.
He played lacrosse in the fall. Lacrosse is sort of like land hockey. Guys in light pads and helmets use sticks to hurl a little rubber ball around a soccer field. No one in our house had so much as seen a complete lacrosse game (or match, or whatever) when C signed him up. What’s more, we thought there were going to be practices. Instead, he showed up for the first day and they had a game. We didn’t even know how to get his equipment on.
Despite this, he did very well. Coaches love T1. He is tall for his age and lean in that way that 12 and 13 year old boys are. He probably has 3% body fat. He’s not super muscular, but he is strong and is very quick. I can still beat him in a sprint (“You are really fast for an old man,” he told me after our first race.) but not easily and, in truth, the gap is closing at a rapid pace. So to speak. More important than his natural ability, he is tough and extremely coachable. He takes it seriously, listens, doesn’t fuck around and makes a real effort to do whatever you tell him to do. This latter, I think, is what coaches like the most.
“This kid is great,” one of his coaches, who didn’t know I was within earshot, said recently, “You could tell this kid to run through a brick wall and he would try and do it.”
By the end of his first lacrosse game he was pretty decent at catching and throwing the ball, which is even more difficult than it looks (and it doesn’t look easy). He enjoyed lacrosse but what he really wanted to play was football.
Football is my favorite sport. I was an average to below average player on a high school team (Trinity)that has won 21 state championships, is sponsored by Adidas regularly fields 100 juniors and seniors and is recognized as one of the best high school football programs in the country. When I got hurt and decided to stop playing the team didn’t notice. I had a bit more success in track. I was never a great athlete but, like T1, I worked hard. I decided in fourth grade to become a good jumper. By 8th grade I could dunk a basketball (any other type of shot was a bit of a chore). I long jumped 20 feet my freshman year and placed in the top ten in both the long jump and triple jump at the state championships. Closer to 10th than to 1st, but still. I used to be able to stand flatfooted and jump up onto a kitchen counter. I shudder to think what would happen if I tried that now.
My parents were, as they tended to always be, very supportive. My dad was an excellent high school athlete and was drafted to play pro baseball as a pitcher until he destroyed his knees and shoulders. I can’t think of but one instance until I was in high school where I had any sort of game or practice where my dad wasn’t there, usually as the coach. He wasn’t a little league father, trying to relive past glories through his sons. He honestly didn’t care if we played or not. He was just there to help us if we needed it, celebrate with us on victories and comfort us on losses. For me and my brother, that became a central idea of one of the things a father does. Before he took the job he has now, my brother, who like T1 is a natural athlete, was a teacher and on the coaching staff of our high school team, the aforementioned dynasty. We both see sports as an important thing, not just for the physical aspects but because it provides for emotional growth, bonding and support.
Obviously, I hadn’t had the opportunity to provide that sort of support until recently. I was hopeless at lacrosse but football…well, I understand football. I might have sucked as a player but I know how the game is played and benefited from observing quite a few good coaches.
C signed him up for spring flag football. As with lacrosse, T1 had never played football but he was very excited about it. He really wants to play tackle in the fall and we figured this would be a good way to get him started.
The first practice was a cluster fuck. For some reason, we didn’t get the email that told us the practice was going to be at a different location than the games. There were a lot of teams practicing at the field but it wasn’t well organized. We wandered from huddle of parents and kids to huddle of parents and kids, asking for the Legends and getting negative responses. A lot of parents were doing the same. At our last stop the kids were the right age. The coach took one look at T1 and offered to let him practice with them and to even join the team instead of the one he was assigned to, if he wanted.
We took him up on the practice offer, figuring we were there and if nothing else T1 could catch a few balls. He did, but the practice was poorly run, the coach well-meaning but all over the place. The other kids on his team were, I am sure, very nice children, but there was a very clear divide between the natural ability level of T1 and the kid playing quarterback and the rest of them. I stood off to the side watching. It was here that I had my first blast of side-line faux dad syndrome.
I was already frustrated with the whole set up and not being able to find T1’s team. The coach was having them do passing drills, but he would call the routes by numbers. That’s fine, but for it to work you have to explain what the route is and match it up to whatever arbitrary number you are calling it. Half the kids don’t know a post from a curl and the ones that do aren’t psychic and so don’t know that when you call a “four” that’s a slant.
This went on for a bit, kids running around but not running anything specific, until the coach told T1 to run a “two.” He looked over at me, I shrugged, he ran a pretty good slant, the kid playing quarterback put the ball hard over his head but accurate, T1 reached up and plucked it out of the air and turned up field. It was pretty. I’m not just saying this because he is mine, but it was the best catch and run of the day. All the kids on the team went “OOOOO!”
The coach jumped his case for not running the right pattern.
“Fuck this fucking guy,” I said to myself. Then, out loud, I said…well, I said fuck this fucking guy again, but not loud enough that anyone other than the dad standing next to me could hear. I am 100% okay with T1 being coached and know that he is going to make mistakes and be corrected. That’s what I want to happen. But you can’t ask the kids to do something and not explain what that something is. I took a breath and then loudly I said, “Coach, none of them know what a two is. Or a four.”
To the coach’s credit, he pondered this for a second, realized I had a good point, and did what he should have done the first time, which was explain what he wanted. T1 didn’t even hear me complain, which is good, because he probably would have been embarrassed. Embarrassment is worse than waterboarding when you are 13.
We left practice, and T1 said that he had a good time, which is the important thing. I could tell he was dissatisfied though. So was I. T1 wants to win and he wants to be good. He wants coaching. He wasn’t getting it and I could tell he was a little bummed.
I talked to his actual coach, from his real team, after that first practice. He apologized for the screw up and told us the location of the next practice.
When we showed up at the correct location the first thing T1 and I both noticed were his teammates. They were big. All of them were his size or so. They were fast. They were athletic. T1 and I looked at each other and raised eyebrows. This was interesting.
The coach arrived and two things happened. The first was they immediately started practicing defense. I love defense, in any sport. The fact that they spent an entire hour and fifteen minutes practicing defense was fantastic. He had them doing cover 2 and cover 3 zone, which is effective and easy to learn. This guy knew what he was doing, the practice was well organized and he was coaching. He was instructing. Not just big things, but little things. Precision things. The kids were good and they were listening. It was great.
The second thing that happened is that he asked me to help.
That was surprising. I immediately said yes and so became an assistant coach/general helper on a seven man seventh and eight grade flag football team. I had a really good time. I ran routes so the boys had someone to defend against, helped the safeties and corners on their communication and generally did whatever the coach needed. It is really no big deal to the team but for me to be able to, in a small way, help T1 and provide a little of the sort of support my father gave to me growing up…it was amazingly important to me. It felt very right. Afterwards I checked with T1 to make sure it was okay I was involved in his deal and he assured me it was.
T1, properly coached, did well. He was assigned to rush the quarterback every play. He enjoyed causing havoc behind the line of scrimmage immensely. He had a great time. He talked the whole way home about his teammates and his new found love of defense and how good he thought his team was going to be. As bad as the first practice had been, the second one was 1000 times better.
He had his first game on Saturday. We got there an hour and a half early and the boys had their second practice. Well, our second, their third. The coach gave everyone those wristbands that you can put play cards in and the time was spent mostly on offense. T1 was playing wide receiver. The team’s quarterback has cannon of an arm for a 12 year old and all of the kids could really catch. Things were looking good.
We walked over to the field to start the game and someone realized that in three practices, no one had ever played center. Which is a bit important.
Like I said, if you can show T1 how to do something and give him a minute or so, he will be able to replicate it. Literally four minutes before the game began, the coach turned to T1 and said, “Can you play center?”
T1 is 13 and so obsessed with being cool. Trying to be cool seldom works and nobody tries to be cool more than teenagers. I know this from experience. Occasionally, however, he will accidently do something that legitimately is cool. This was one of those times.
He looked at the coach and shrugged.
“I never have,” said the kid who admitted he was nervous on the way to the game because he had never played before, “but if somebody can show me how to snap the ball, I guess I can handle it.”
So someone did. Two minutes later he said, “Okay, I can do this.”
T1 made the first tackle of the game and knocked down the pass on the next play. He snapped the ball admirably. He beat himself up a bit because he dropped one pass and, when they moved him to running back for a couple of plays, he bobbled the hand off. The fact that they ran the same play again right away and he got a first down was not the part he focused on. He drove the other team’s quarterback crazy all day, at one point apparently causing the poor kid to yell at T1, “Fuck you, you mother fucker!” after T1 chased the kid out of the pocket and then knocked another pass attempt out of the air. This is funny more because the burst of profanity both shocked and amused T1 than because it was a 12 year old cussing like a sailor.
His team won 38-8. Defense wins, kids. He played very, very well, especially for his first time. He had a great time.
I was very proud.