I was my son’s first soccer coach. When various AYSO personnel made it clear that my job was to make soccer fun so the kids would want to keep playing, that’s what I did. Having racked up ungodly numbers of hours taking care of younger siblings and babysitting for cash, I understood that holding a child’s attention is not easy. You have to creative, flexible, a little silly, a lot encouraging, and just scary enough to keep the aggressive kids in line. If the kids weren’t improving or having fun, I figured that was my fault. I spent hours adjusting and agonizing over practices and games.
My Chinese-American husband had a completely different mindset.
Andy wanted to coach even less than I did, but coaches were always in short supply. Baby D’s first basketball team at the YMCA was coached by a middle-aged white guy who didn’t have a kid on the team. The guy knew basketball, but didn’t know kids for shit. He alternately babied them too much or got too technical. (Also, it is, sadly, unusual that a man wanted to hang out with kids that weren’t his without being paid. That’s a pedophile alarm bell, right there.)
I insisted that Andy co-coach with another dad for the second season.
After much growling and whining, Andy reluctantly attended basketball coach training. He dubbed it a joke and got a book titled “Basketball Coaching for Dummies.” For two seasons, Andy endeavored to teach Baby D and his teammates how to screen, and shoot, and pass. His success was limited.
So was his patience. While Baby D left every practice happy after time spent playing with friends, Andy left every practice irritated. He complained continually about the boys goofing off during practice.
I tried to offer advice, suggesting games to play. Andy told me it was hopeless; all the kids clearly had crappy parents who let their kids do whatever they wanted without consequences.
“That’s not true,” I argued. “I’ve been watching. Only half the parents are crap.”
“Yeah, but none of the kids listen! They run off and do…not-basketball things!”
“You have to make your instructions short, honey. They learn best by playing and figuring out stuff themselves. Even our own kid. Remember how he always has to do everything the hard way? He’s stubborn. You have to show him why he needs to do something a certain way, he’s not just gonna do something because you tell him to.”
“But I’m right and I know what I’m doing! Why don’t they just listen?”
“Because they’re five-year-old-boys?”
“Because otherwise your father would knuckle you in the head. You do that here, you get arrested for assault.”
“Stupid child abuse laws. Some of those kids need a knuckle to the head.”
The third time Andy coached, Dashiell came home from practice subdued, while Andy was beaming. “Guess what, honey? I have a new kid on the team and his name is Ken and he listens to me and he doesn’t goof off and then he does exactly what I tell him and I LOVE HIM.”
I waited until Baby D in the bathroom, with the fan on, before I went full Mama Moose (which is way worse than Mama Bear, just check with any wildlife biologist).
“HOW DARE YOU!” I rage hissed, backing Andy all the way across the living room. “You have a bright child who is funny and inventive and has so much to offer! And yes, he’s contrary and yes he argues, but he will never be boring, and he will never succumb to peer pressure and I cannot believe your head has been turned by some obedient, rule-following kid when you have been so lucky as to get a glorious, quick-witted child of your own like Baby D!”
“But I didn’t mean it like that—it’s just so nice to have a kid who listens,” Andy whined. “Of course I love Baby D.”
“Yes, but you don’t like his irrepressible spirit because it’s inconvenient when he challenges your authority. And he deserves to be seen and loved for who he is, not just because he’s obedient and easy!”
“Fine, fine, you’re right. Don’t kill me. But can you imagine what it would be like to have a team of boys who all listened and did exactly what I told them to do? It would be amazing!”
“No, honey, it wouldn’t,” I answered.
“It would be the Hitler Youth.”