With the snow crunching under boots, it is hard to believe it was just a over a month ago that I was lacing up my son's cleats as he prepared to take the soccer field for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) U-10 bracket championship game for the Oak Park region. Unfortunately, his team, the fabulous Blue Tornados lost the game - but that second place trophy was hard-earned by this team of Beye and Lincoln school boys who adjusted and improved with each passing Saturday.
Both of my children participated in the AYSO league this year. In addition to my third-grade son in the under-10 division my first-grade daughter took the field in the under-8 division. And both of my children also had the same coach, Steve Nations, who somehow managed to shuttle back and forth between the games of these two teams, with occasional back-to-back game times on fields that were many miles apart, every Saturday. I want to thank Coach Steve, not only for the logistical feat of seemingly being two places at once, but also for the way he coached the kids.
At the beginning of the season, Coach Steve reminded parents he expected the highest level of sportsmanship from both the players and the parents. Like any good coach, he told players that each game would end with handshakes with the opposing team and that the decisions of the referee would be respected.
But the most impressive aspect of Coach Steve's management of his squads was during the games. The parents sitting on the other side of the field never heard Coach Steve shouting at his players. To be honest, there were times I would ask myself why Coach Steve wasn't giving the players more direction, and I would find myself shouting at my son or another player to "get in position" or more often, "pay attention!" But Coach Steve's philosophy was that it is good to reduce the amount of instruction players receive during the game and let the kids learn to manage themselves.
At one game towards the end of the season, the AYSO organization was encouraging coaches to implement a "silent second half" which meant no coaching from the sidelines (both coaches and parents). The purpose of the initiative was to put an end to the sometimes unruly coach and/or parent behavior and put the attention back where it belongs - on the kids. In an e-mail he sent to parents of the boys U-10 team, Coach Steve asked us to comply and he put it this way: "A couple of times this year, I've asked the guys how many goals I've scored this year. When they answer zero I remind them that the game is about them, not me, and when the game starts, they are in control. And they've done great so far."
Yes, they did do great. So great that at the end of that U-10 boys bracket championship game, and despite the disappointing loss, I ran over to Coach Steve and planted a big, sloppy kiss square on his lips. OK, so now might be a good time to disclose that in addition to being the mom of two of Coach Steve's players, I am also his wife. As a mom on the sidelines, I want to thank Coach Steve for being a great example of sportsmanship to both the kids and parents. And as his wife, I want to thank my husband for his desire to be involved with both of our kids by taking on the job of coaching both soccer teams this year (and also publicly beg him to not do that again next year!)