When I was growing up my father coached me and my brother in just about everything. Until we hit high school he was almost always our t-ball, baseball, basketball and football coach. In the event he wasn’t coaching he was at every game. Truth be told, I don’t remember him missing any sporting events, save maybe the occasional high school track meet, during my entire un-storied career.
I’ve tried to do more or less the same for the boys. I’ve coached both of them in flag football and T2 in basketball. They both played lacrosse briefly and I was 100% pure spectator on that one, having never seen a lacrosse game before they started. Once the boys graduated to tackle football I let people with a better understanding of what they were doing take over but I still try and be there for every game.
T1 has football practice every day after school and then games on Mondays or Tuesdays depending on the schedule. It’s freshman high school football and so it’s relatively serious. They moved him to a position he hadn’t played before but he is naturally athletic and a quick learner who is very coachable. He is also extremely competitive and very driven to be good. He’s already the fastest kid they have but we are getting him a speed coach during the off season so he can be even faster. That’s a whole industry around here, private speed coaches. Really there are private speed coaches and private strength coaches and private position coaches. Some Sundays he goes and works out with his friend M. M is an amazingly talented quarterback with a great arm and even better field sense who, as a freshman, starts for the JV and is the second string for the varsity. M has a private quarterback coach. Well, really he has a whole team of private coaches. T1 goes with him to some of his sessions because M needs someone to throw to. T1 gets the benefit of professional training, which is nice.
We live about two miles from the Washington Redskins training facility and the area is peppered with ex-NFLers, which I assume explains the high number of very specific personal trainers. Anyway, this winter we are sending T1 to an ex-pro wide receiver in order to make fast even faster.
T2 is playing tackle on a very, very good team. Most of the other kids have played before, so he has had a lot of catch up to do. Naturally a man of leisure and no way as competitive as his brother, T2 takes a more laid back approach to the game. For example, one of the first things they do every practice is take a lap around the field. T2 is almost always last or at least in the last couple of kids. He’s running, but I know he isn’t running as hard as he could be.
When asked about it, he will admit he is jogging.
“There is a whole hour and a half practice coming,” he will say. “I want to be able to play harder when we are doing plays and stuff so I’ve got to save my energy.”
His brother would be trying to run people into the ground. T2 is happy to be a conservationist.
He is really enjoying playing though. He loves being on a team, any team, and like I said, this is a good one. Part of it is his team mates, they are very talented. A larger part of it is the coaches.
There are four of them, all with kids on the team. They are strict but fair, they take it seriously but not so seriously that they forget it is supposed to be fun. They push the kids, but just enough to make them better and not so much as to make it miserable. I am really pleased that he ended up where he did. He lucked out to have four such good guys as his first tackle coaches.
Interestingly, T2 has a real affinity for Coach Jim, the coach who could reasonably be described as the biggest hard ass of the four. Coach Jim’s daughter has the distinction of being the only girl in the league. She plays outside linebacker, a pony tail poking out from under her helmet the only clue that she isn’t one of the boys. Well, that and when they go shirts vs. skins she is always on shirts.
Anyway, Jim is strictest of the coaches, the most likely to yell and to get on the kids cases hard and to make them do push-ups or, even worse in T2’s estimation, planks. He’s actually never mean, you can tell he has a real desire to make the kids better and I think they all understand that. You’d think T2, sensitive soul that he is, wouldn’t be a fan, but he totally is. These are men with jobs and lives so they occasionally miss practices. If T2 gets to the field and doesn’t see Coach Jim’s truck, he immediately goes on “Coach Jim Watch.”
“Where is he?” he will ask me.
“I dunno T2m,” I will say.
“You think he will be here?”
“I’m not his social secretary, so I have no idea.”
“I hope he’s here.”
“Well, maybe he had to work or had something…”
“THERE’S HIS TRUCK!”
“Oh well, thank god, right?”
“Yeah, thank god! Although I hope he doesn’t make us do planks.”
He’s learning too. The difference between his first game and now is striking.
“Did you get a holding penalty on that extra point?” I asked after their first outing.
“I don’t even know what holding is,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure I did it.”
Before his last game I was quizzing him on his playbook.
“What’s Green Raider?” I asked.
“Base Five,” he said, not looking up from his waffles. “Nose guard goes right and I stunt around him to the A gap on the left.”
I could tell how much T2 is into the whole tackle football thing because of something he didn’t do this past weekend.
At some point during the week he ran around with high-tops on and no socks. He wore an inch and a half long strip of skin off the back of his foot and was limping around. The game time got moved and they were going to be short a couple of kids, he was going to get an opportunity to play a lot more than normal, on both offense and defense.
“Can we fix this?” he asked before the game.
We taped him up and gave him a Tylenol. He didn’t tell the coaches about his foot before the game. He was good until the end of the third quarter, when he started limping. T2 runs funny to begin with, despite my best efforts he is all flapping arms legs akimbo, so I don’t think anyone else noticed at first, but I could tell he was hurting. Despite this, he never made a move to be taken out. This is not a kid who likes discomfort but he never tapped his helmet and asked for a sub. He played fine but I was more proud of him for toughing it out.
Cass and I are the Team Mom. This means we had to order socks (two pairs, one matching the uniforms and one pink set for October), get all the parents rosters at the beginning of the season, and do some general co-ordination. It also means I have to make a banner before every game for the kids to run through. Well…I don’t HAVE to, but apparently there isn’t much that nine year olds like more than running through banners. I’m getting really good at spray paint, I’m more or less the youth football version of Banksy. I also will strategically pre-cut the banner so, like Hulk Hogan’s t-shirt, it explodes on contact. This didn’t keep the banner busting from causing a couple of minor injuries the first few games, as nine year olds will absolutely launch themselves at paper targets if given the opportunity.
The other thing Cass and I do is work on the chain gang, holding and moving the yardage markers. I do the same thing at T1’s home games. Chain gang work is a lot more serious at the high school level, incidentally.
I really enjoy it. You can see the field from an unusual angle. You are on the away team side, so you can listen in on the other teams’ coaches -we aren’t allowed to have cellphones out at the high school games specifically for that reason.
More importantly. It gives me something to do besides worry. I get to pay attention to the game but it also takes my mind off of how happy or unhappy the boys may be at that moment, a moment where I have no control over the situation.
One thing I remember about my dad is, at games he wasn’t coaching, he also would often be somewhere other than the stands. He’s be up and pacing around. He was nervous. He wasn’t a little league father, trying to re-live his own sports victories or defeats through his kids. He didn’t have visions of us playing pro ball and was worried about us striking out and thus dropping draft positions and ending up on the Blue Jays. He just wanted us to do well and have fun for our own sakes. He wanted us to be happy.
I didn’t understand it at the time. I totally get it now.