In college I decided that I needed to do something more than drink beer, drink coffee and make out with my boyfriend now husband. That I needed to serve or volunteer somewhere. Lubbock had limited options and my skills were even more limited. I loved teenagers. I loved soccer. So I thought I’d put my loves to good use and I called up the LSA and volunteered my mad skills to coach a junior high girls soccer team. Eventually they matched me with a team. Of 4 year olds. I can not even tell you how afraid I am of more than 3 kids in my care that can not drive. Even now that I have two of my own. Thankfully the 20 year old version of my self bought a whistle and called my first team meeting anyway. The first item on my list was to pick a team name and order uniforms. Asking four year olds for input was only the first of many of my fails as a soccer coach. I nixed the Barbies, the Unicorns and the Princesses. Instead I named them the Tumbleweeds....it was Lubbock after all. I refused to order pink jerseys but compromised on purple. I made the mistake of trying to run actual drills the first few practices and for the life of me did not know how to teach them to not use their hands. I think I made a few cry before I told them I would tickle them if they touched the ball with their hands. The first game, one of my girls asked the ref to tickle an offending player which led to some pretty funny looks. At practice I made them do jumping jacks as a warm up just because it made me laugh. Every. Single. Time. (If you have never seen a toddler try to do a jumping jack -- go find one right now. 4 year olds are barely coordinated enough to pull up their own pants much less move their feet and hands at once). These girls could not tie their own shoes, wipe their noses or go to the bathroom by themselves and it was the best birth control a college girl could have.
I was nervous on game day and thought long and hard over my line up. That first season the games were hilarious. There were a lot of own goals, tears, capri suns and pigtails. Most of them ran around the field in a clump and kicked when ever a ball hit them in the foot. Occasionally, one even went in the goal. We all signed up for the next season. It was the days of Mia Hamm and when the US won the world cup in penalty kicks and Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey …one of my now five year olds demanded that her mom buy her a sports bra. Little Brandi never ripped off her jersey….but she was my super star on the field. She was aggressive, got the game and could out run most of the other kids. By season two we rarely lost. The rest of the girls on the team learned to let the Shannon (aka Brandi) get the ball and she kept putting it into the back of the net. My last year of coaching, also happened to be my first year of teaching and these now 4 year olds were first graders. Our field got bigger, a few of the rules changed and my team went from dominating tiny little fields to getting destroyed on a much larger one. That season the Tumbleweeds (and their coach) learned how to lose more than just their front teeth.
Most days my coaching days are long forgotten, but this morning felt like déjà vu. I am more than grateful that someone else’s dad coaches Tess’s team. He is far more patient and creative than I ever was. He has never had to resort to tickling. Most of the girls on the team have been on the same team since they were 4. This is their 5th season together. Tess is not a superstar out there and has yet to ask me for a sports bra. Some days she has to be bribed to put on her shin guards, but at the end of every season, she asks to play again. It probably has more to do with the end of season cupcakes and trophies, than a love for the game. These girls are good and have been playing together before they could read and were still buckled into a five point harness. Last spring they won every single game. The season before that they only lost one. All last year it seemed like they had outgrown their tiny little fields. Most of them could boot the ball the length of the field, do a few fancy moves and a few kids on the team could even score from the center line. As our scores creeped into the double digits I’d catch myself cheering when the opposing team managed to get one in. Today, these first graders showed up in new jerseys, new gap toothed smiles and lined up on a field twice the size of their last one. Five minutes into the first half they were down by two goals. Our girls probably had better ball skills, but the other team had figured out something we hadn’t. How to pass and even more importantly the concept of extra space. If they didn’t know what to do with the ball, they kicked it to open space on the field and then quickly another white jersey would run to it. Over and over they did this as our star players grew more and more frustrated and tired. This field was big, and my girl was sucking wind to get back on defense. I am all for lessons in humility (as long as they are not mine), so I don’t mind losing a game from time to time. Our coach had other things in mind, and must have pulled off a halftime speech worthy of Eric Taylor or Lou Holtz, because those girls got out there and tied it up before the last whistle. However, they still struggled to pass and use empty space.
But, don’t we all.
Unlike Tess’s new field, empty space is not something I seem to have too much of. Instead it is something I have to create. To find and uncover and guard like it was the last Oreo. I rarely pass, but keep saying Yes when I should say No. This is not a game. There is no half time or hand made tunnels to run through after a win or a loss. And no one is handing out trophies to participants or giving me a snack or letting me sub out when I am tired. However, I can still learn to create and use space better. There are not too many perks to brain surgery (besides having a doctor’s note to not clean my house for a month), but for me it mandated lots of rest. I do not sit still well. I have always struggled with margin in every area of my life. My time is always overbooked and I rarely find a way to get it all done. I am an extrovert and hate missing out more than Mindy Kaling. This has cost me in many ways only one of which is sleep. For months I have learned to rest, to watch Netflix, that missing out isn’t the end of the world, and to go to bed when I’m tired. That I need more nights free than filled and that almost every thing is better after a bath, a nap or reading a book that is not on the required reading list. It is getting close to 8 weeks since I had surgery. My life is mostly back to normal. My pain levels and blood pressure are much lower than it was three months ago. I still have some restrictions, my body is still healing and more often than not am in pajama pants within five minutes of walking in the door from work. I feel less bad and less exhausted than I did a month ago, so I have been forgetting to hold that space. I have been saying yes and running around and pushing myself probably more than I should. My old habits have easily found their way back and if this week had been a soccer game, I would have lost. Watching these girls exhaust themselves out there reminds me of the Tumbleweeds. I wonder who those six year olds are now. If I am doing they math correctly, they are seniors in college. More importantly it reminded me the beauty and advantage of holding extra space. I am no Brandi Chastain either, but these days I wear my pajama pants in the same celebratory fashion that she donned her black sports bra. (Just remember that if you see me at the grocery store in them).