Some people would accuse me of living vicariously through my daughter's athletic achievements.
Those people would be correct.I admit it. I was, and still am, one horrible athlete.
My first year in Little League I batted last, played right field and struck out every time. My last year in Little League, I batted last, played right field and . . . well, you get the idea.
My greatest accomplishment came years later when I finished third in an AAU wrestling tournament. Of course, there were only three guys in the weight class. But I did have the fastest pin of the tournament: It only took the other guy 17 seconds to get me down.
Things didn't change much with age. I was the worst player on the worst basketball team in the history of the Eugene, Ore., recreation department, or so the other teams told me. I led the entire city in personal fouls.
Fortunately, my oldest daughter takes after her more athletically gifted mother. She's not even 8 yet and already has scored four goals in one soccer game, a milestone that appears forever beyond my reach.
As a longtime loser and Charlie Brown impersonator, however, I find that I am uniquely qualified to coach young athletes. Because I never succeeded, I don't expect a lot from kids. Every ounce of skill they demonstrate truly amazes me and I respond with sincere enthusiasm. If they blow a pass or lose the ball, I don't get mad. I applaud the effort. They say the best players often don't make the best coaches, and I think I understand why.
For three seasons, now, my friend Dimitri and I have coached our daughters in youth soccer. We didn't become coaches for the glory of winning but because no one else would do it. But then our kindergarten team went undefeated, 9-0, and last fall our first- and second-graders finished 7-1-1.
This spring, we won our first game easily. But the second one was tight. Early in the second half, with the score tied, we had a breakaway opportunity. But four of the girls stood at midfield, talking.
"Get down there! Get down on offense!" I yelled repeatedly, but to no avail. As it turned out, one of them had a bloody finger. Not a pretty sight.
I felt bad about yelling at an injured player. And I had shouted repeatedly at another girl, who was out of position but ignored me. I felt worse later when my wife told me some of the parents were giving me disapproving looks.
Was I getting carried away? Was I pushing too hard to win? I had to rethink my philosophy. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I was yelling praise and encouragement. My words were positive. But I was still hollering.
I retreated. I spoke to players only if they were close enough to hear my normal voice. If they didn't get properly organized for a throw-in, so be it. If the goalie was sitting with her back to the play, plucking grass blades from the earth as the opposing team charged downfield toward her, so be it.
We lost the next three games.
I, like many men, trust my wife to help keep the more extreme elements of my personality from drowning out the more tolerable ones. Without her, I would be one obnoxious dude. But I started think I'd reacted too severely to her advice. True, parents were no longer staring at me because I was yelling. They were looking at me BECAUSE WE WERE LOSING!
It even got to my wife, who believes that having a clean carpet is infinitely more important than winning. That was it. Yelling Coach was back.
It just so happened that our next opponents were coached by the man we've come to know as "the General" - the man who, two seasons ago, convinced our teenage referees that Dimitri and I couldn't walk onto the field to help our kindergartners during the game. All the other coaches did it. It just made sense to have on-field help for kids that age. But the General, who ran his team like an infantry unit, would have none of that.
This was one game Dimitri and I wanted to win. Final score: Us 11, them 0.
We ended the year with four straight wins, although none of the kids knew or cared. More importantly, no one forgot their turn to bring postgame treats.
Sure, it's only little kids' soccer. And now that the season's over I have time to shampoo the carpets. But for the first time in my life, I feel like a winner. Vicariously, that is.