By: Kate Gruetter
Prior to this summer, I loved kids. I still do, though upon seeing one now I find myself more likely to herd and command them than hug and adore them. That is because I spent five (I think) weeks manipulating kids into loving soccer and obeying rules.
Not every kid I coached was an emotional, entitled wreck. In fact, a majority of them were polite kids who just wanted to smile, kick a ball, and hear coaches tell them they were cute. One kid appeared every day with a solid white mask of sunscreen lathered all over his face. It became an unspoken rule that Otis’ hugs (name changed because I don’t remember it) had to be avoided for the first thirty minutes of camp until his sunscreen dried. Other kids were completely enamored with the promise of imaginary crowns and medals for following directions and fulfilling the daunting task of standing in a straight line.
However, a solid quarter of kids had never been told no. And when the first time a kid hears ‘no’ is from a seventeen year old stranger, they tend to cry or pout rather than listen. One kid went so far as to kick anything that disagreed with him, which is an important skill for soccer balls, but not so much for other kids or coaches.
Three moments in coaching truly altered the trajectory of my life, and if I die of a stress-related cause, these experiences are probably why.
The first week I coached, I encountered a child with style and taste like no other. He was the only individual I had ever met who actually named Peaches by Justin Bieber as one of his top three songs with complete confidence and pride. This small soccer prodigy insisted on picking up every rusty wire and piece of metal he found until we told him he would get tetanus and bleed from his eyes (not true). He was also part of a group of campers who participated in crying competitions, fighting for who could cry the most in one day. They were like dominoes, the minute one shed tears the others almost immediately followed suit, trying to achieve the loudest wail and wettest cheeks. The Thursday of this camp week, we reached a cry count of above 30, only because we stopped counting.
The last week I coached, I faced the test that was the (not) party bus. Because of a change in location, the last couple weeks of camp we had to shuttle the kids from one field to another at noon, which demanded one coach ride with the kids. The first few days, the kids retained their manners, they said thank you, didn’t yell, and didn’t throw food. And then, they abandoned all civility and abused party bus privileges. One day, the poor driver opened the bus’s trunk to crushed animal crackers and lingering tunes.
The worst part of coaching, by far, was leading the kids from Creekside to Oak Meadow Park via the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Kids don’t want to walk that far, coaches don’t want to walk that far, even the native geese don’t want to walk that far, which is why they fly. Aside from the harrowing difficulties of this trek, there are also way too many distractions. Geese, mud, water, and bikers serve the sole purpose of deterring seven-year-olds from their route and disobeying their coaches.
Although I slander the experience, coaching was truly an incredibly productive and maturing experience, and one that I will remember, and only sometimes regret, for the rest of my life.