Thursday, November 5, 2015

Green Dragon, Purple Dragon

As a rugby player, I have both a social and moral obligation to disdain soccer.  The drama, the flopping, the stretchers, the silly airplane celebration ... they go against the core of my being.  And yet.  I have a Brasilian wife (= soccer) and two small children (= more soccer), and somehow this equation has left me as the head coach of Dylan and nine other little third, fourth, and fifth graders.  We are the Green Dragons.  My first question as head coach was, "How many players are on a soccer team?" which was followed by, "What the hell is offsides?"  Obviously, I was the right man for the job.

Grady, too, is a soccer player and his team is the Purple Dragons.  I know, the lack of creativity in the naming of teams around here is disheartening.  After one match, we asked the team we just beat what they were called, so we could do the "2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate?" cheer.  Their coach replied, "I don't know, you choose."  All I know is that you're supposed to throw a "United" or "FC" after any name to gain a little authenticity.  Between Green and/or Purple Dragon practices and matches, our fall has been soccer-full.  Dylan plays on Saturday mornings.  I can tell where you're from by your reaction to that last sentence.  If it was, "Oh, Saturdays are perfect," then bless your heart, you're not local.  The correct reply is, "Wait, during buck season?  Is that even legal?"  It's not, I checked.

Grady's games are at least on Thursday evenings.  Usually they're on a field that is crowded with deer that have become accustomed to six-year olds booting soccer balls at them.  They barely flinch.  Grady's coach is a spunky Camp Wrangler who greets everyone with, "Howdy!"  She yells positive things at her players and cheers whenever anyone, on any team, scores a goal.  Grady's games are a joy to watch.  No one remembers the score and sometimes there are extra snacks after the game for parents.  Dylan's are the opposite.  They're contests in which parent can cheer the loudest for his/her child and for me to ponder all the decisions I've made in my life.

We are nearing the end of the season and, looking back, I've learned a few things about soccer, and, well, about me.  Here they are:

1)  I channel Coach Snell -- the Welshman who coached my college rugby team -- when I coach soccer.  We work on aggressive soccer and yell a few kid-friendly rugby chants now and then.  I haven't introduced them to "Shoot the boot" or any bawdy songs, but neither did Snell, we learned that on our own.  If I get to sub into a game for a few minutes and leave the field with one less ear than I started the day with, then I'd really do Coach Snell proud.

2)  Grady does an awesome hoppity-hop dance when he's the guy elected to kickoff.  The ball goes nowhere, and he just jumps up and down beside it, but it's fun to watch.  Besides, the tactic is so confusing to the opposing team that I might incorporate it into my game plan.

3)  I don't handle girl problems well.  The Green Dragons are 80% girls, and they're girls who don't always get along.  When in-fighting happens, I yell, "Get along or run a lap."  Guess what doesn't work?  Yeah, yelling "Get along or run a lap" to nine-year old girls.  Luckily, I have an assistant who A) knows the rules of soccer, and B) handles those problems well.  Wait, what to I bring to the table? Not much.

4)  Boys poop in urinals.  This has nothing to do with soccer; I just noticed it when I was taking Grady to one of my practices.  I can't un-see that.

5)  I've taught Grady a valuable soccer lesson: follow the big kid.  He has a buddy on the team who is a bit larger than most other players.  Anyone in his way generally lands on his/her back.  I've taught Grady to get behind that action.  At some point the ball is going to squirt out Grady's way, or at lest he'll be the first person there to celebrate a goal.

6)  We've had to institute a "no cowboy boot" rule for our practices.  It hasn't worked.  At least one player per practice has forgotten her cleats and plays in boots.  It's usually Dylan.  No one has been kicked too hard yet, but it's bound to happen.  One parent calls them "Siskiyou County Cleats."

I don't talk about it much, because I don't want to ruin my rugby reputation, but soccer is really growing on me.  The joy of a youth soccer game is really a thing to revel in and watching Grady run around the pitch just makes me smile and laugh.  My Green Dragons are an awesome group of kids and are as fierce and tenacious as any burly rugger I ever encountered.  "Be Brave" has become our motto and I've stolen a few of the more appropriate rugby chants for us to yell before matches.  So if you're not out buck hunting on a Saturday morning and find yourself in Etna, don't be surprised to hear "Saturday's a soccer day!"  You're not hearing things, it's just the Green Dragons getting ready to rumble.