How I realized I am more than just a coach and they are much more than just a name
Cuties. Tiny succulent tangerines that are abundant during the halftime of a youth soccer game. These tangerines are being pulled apart and eaten by tiny ten-year-old cuties whose only care in the world is that some girl just elbowed them in their shoulder and it hurt, so they sit there configuring the obvious solution: revenge.
My adrenaline and nerves numb me from the chilled night air. I stand on the sidelines of the soccer field in my coach shirt, and I can feel my heart beating. I am deaf to the murmurs from the parents sitting behind me. I can see a table filled with first place trophies all lined up from the corner of my eye. The score is 3-2; we are winning. The final minutes tick down, and I can sense the parents tentatively celebrating. The referee blows the whistle.
“Hand ball,” the referee declares from inside the goal box we are defending. My heart sinks. The parents start screaming in defense of their children. This cannot be happening. It is the final minutes of the game and we get a hand ball giving the other team an easy goal to tie the game.
The girl from the other team sets up the ball on the penalty kick line, takes a few steps back, and kicks the ball perfectly into the corner of the net. The game is tied.
I look at the faces of my girls, and they are in complete shock as they look around with blank stares wondering why and how this is happening.
The referee blows the final whistle to end the game in a tie. Now, since this is the championship game, it cannot end in a tie, so it must go to shoot outs.This means that each team will pick five players to take penalty kicks one at a time, and the team who makes the most shots out of five wins.
I gather up my girls and tell them that it is okay; that we can do this. Nerves take over and we miss a shot, and the other team ends up winning. The girls break down; there are tears streaming down the tiny, sweat-infused faces of twelve eight- and nine-year-old girls who put their whole heart and being into the entire season to have it all stripped from them at the minute.
My heart breaks into a million pieces as I look into their pain-stricken eyes, but it is my responsibility to put my emotions aside and build these girls back up. They have the heart of lions and the strength of the ocean, and I needed to remind them of that.
Fortunately, the playoffs are double elimination and that night was our first loss, so we had another chance to be champions the next day. They came back the next day stronger than ever and deservingly won with a perfect 3-0 game, and I got the pleasure to hand each of them their first place trophies they worked so hard for.
Now, let’s go back to the very first day this all started. I am driving 15 hours home from a road trip to Colorado with my dad and my brother. Sitting in the tiny space left in the backseat surrounded by luggage, I have nothing to do except think. I think about how much I regret quitting soccer after my freshman year of high school, but there is no way I can jump back into it at a college level four years dormant.
“Why don’t you just coach?” my brother says after I vent. Every lightbulb turned on in my head. Why hadn’t I thought of that earlier?
As I scroll through the American Youth Soccer Organization’s website quickly answering questions about my background, the answers flow through my fingers transferring onto the coaches’ application with ease. I reach the end of the application and nonchalantly click ‘submit’ without fully understanding what this submission means. Within a few weeks I am handed a list of twelve eight- and nine-year-old girls. I read through the names, and in that moment they are simply just names. They have no personality, character, or values. They are purely names of girls who signed up to play soccer and ended up on my team.
It is a sunny California Monday; the birds are singing and the palm trees surrounding the soccer field are swaying in the breeze. The clock strikes 5 o’clock, and it is time to put faces to these names.
“Hi, girls! My name is Lacey and I’m going to be your soccer coach this year,” I say after counting twelve pony-tailed heads. “I promise you that we are going to win and have fun. How does that sound?”
The girls smile shyly, and we spend the first practice talking about our plan: to work hard and win games.
Afterwards, I realize I have made a promise I might not be able to keep. How could I promise that we are going to win games when I have not even seen them kick a soccer ball? I make the decision to put all of my effort into these little girls.
I need to make soccer players out of them by encouraging them to find the soccer player from within. I can only tell them to pass the ball or to be first to the ball; they have to find the drive within them to put my coaching into action. It is my job to make them trust me, want to work hard for me, and for me to believe in them. That is exactly what I did.
“Whether or not we win today is up to you,” I explain to them at our first game after three weeks of careful practice. “The winning team is the team that works the hardest. So, let’s go out and work hard, okay?”
We stand up and put our hands together to say a cheer, and they run out to take the field. After 50 minutes, the referee blows the final whistle concluding the game 3-0; our first game and our first win. The girls run off the field with big smiles to hug their parents.
“Thank you, Lacey,” one of the girls, in the most genuine voices, says to me as she hugs me around my waist. In that moment I realize that these girls are no longer just names, they are real people with tender hearts and incredible minds. I realize that I am way more to them than just a coach; I am a role model. I am someone they look up to.
I have been lucky enough to be part of twelve little girls’ lives. Being a part of their lives gives me great responsibility to be a positive influence and have them leave with more confidence than when they started.
My words have the power to break them down, and my words have the power to build them up. My words have the power to strip them of their importance, and my words have the power to help them realize they are special individuals. This gives me great responsibility to choose my words carefully and configure my language in a positive way. It is important for me to help them realize playing like a girl means playing with determination and purpose. It is important for them to understand that the most beautiful thing about them is their strength and their ability to fall and get back up.
I did not understand that by clicking ‘submit’ on the AYSO application I was signing up to nurture and care for the beating hearts and active minds of twelve incredible girls who have the power to change the world.