What happens when you take 18 kids from a half dozen towns and four different high schools and throw them together on a soccer field? Well, if you’re lucky – and if all the stars and personalities align – you get a team.
This was the experiment we started back in March, although the conversation started well before then. I had two kids who wanted to play spring soccer, but had no team. Some of their friends were also interested in playing. My friend Mike – whose kids are friends with my kids – was game to help with coaching. And I had a connection with an established club who said if we could wrangle enough kids, they’d include a locally-based team under the club’s umbrella.
Finding those 18 kids from a half dozen towns took some scrambling, and our group grew in fits and starts. Before we got to that soccer field, we started in a high school gym. It was the home school gym for several of these kids, and a rival gym for the others. And, indeed, before we started, many of these teenagers knew each other only as rivals – having faced off on opposing sides of the soccer field or basketball court a time or two.
During the first couple of practices, only two schools were represented. Those sessions were pretty quiet, with awkward silences between drills and activities, and groups forming mainly along school allegiances. Then we added a handful of boys – and another coach – from a third school.
Maybe it was some “Rule of Three” effect. Or maybe it was the timing of it. Probably it had a lot to do with personalities. Whatever the reason, by the time we headed outside in mid-April, this group of mostly boys and a few girls was goofing around, cracking jokes – often at a new teammate’s expense – and assigning each other nicknames. Sometimes, they were getting along SO well that we had to pause practice and wait for them to stop talking with each other.
When you grow up in a small town surrounded by other small towns, you spend a good portion of your childhood with the same bunch of kids. If you play sports, you probably have the same teammates (and some of the same opponents) from kindergarten through high school. If you’re lucky, those teammates become good friends, and maybe you figure out – early on or further down the road – how to work well together on the field.
But every now and then, it can be really fun to mix it up. Play with different teammates. Compete against other teams. Listen to a different coach (or two). Learn to play a new position. And, well, make some new friends.
By our first game, we had players from four different high schools on the roster. While we didn’t end the season with a winning record, the highlight of the spring was a tournament over Memorial Day weekend. The team won its first three games, including beating a team they’d tied earlier in the spring, and reached the tourney’s semifinals. For coach mom here, though, the best part of the weekend was seeing this group of awesome humans hanging out with each other and just having fun together.
Our coaching goals for the season were to get the kids lots of touches on the ball, teach them a bit more about the game, help them learn to become better players. And they did – as individuals and as a team. The new friendships were a collateral bonus.
This week, this crew of kids who didn’t really know each other a few months ago had their final game of the season. The next day, they got together one last time for a pickup session, which was as much about socializing as it was about soccer. For 90 minutes, they ran around a soccer field, laughing and playing and talking smack.
Come fall, these kids will go back to being rivals on the pitch. But at the end of the season’s last gathering, they came together in a tight circle one more time, put their hands into the center, and gave their pre-game yell: “Team on three – one-two-three team!”