“Wow, my heart is beating really hard!” Those were the words that made this one of the best days that I have had in quite some time, and they were uttered by a 5 year old boy. Before I elaborate, let’s step back a bit for some background…
A few weeks ago, my wife informed me that I was going to be the coach of my 5 year-old daughter’s soccer team. I think her actual words we “we are going to be coaching her team,” but with an infant in the family who needs Mom for one of his essential needs, I knew what this statement really meant. She told me that the Recreation Department had called and said that they were desperate for coaches, and that as yet our daughter’s team had nobody to fill the role. Given that my wife and I both played soccer in high school, she volunteered, figuring that we could manage despite our lack of any form of coaching experience. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but I knew that it was time for me to give something back, especially since so many other parents have volunteered their time to coach my kids in other sports that they have played.
One of my biggest sources of apprehension was that although I played soccer for many years and know the rules well, I wasn’t sure how to translate this experience to a group of 4-5 year-olds. Thankfully, my son is also playing soccer this Fall in the next higher age group, and I was able to watch his practice earlier in the week in order to get some ideas. The other thing that I have going for me is that although I tend to be quiet and low-key around other adults, being around kids turns me into a total goofball, and I have no problem horsing around and making a fool of myself if it makes a kid laugh. When I’m with a group of kids, I can shut out all of the adults who might be watching, and truly be myself.
This morning was my team’s first practice. My philosophy was simply to get them moving and laughing, with the only real goal being that they have a lot of fun – it turned out to be far easier than I anticipated. The thing I love about kids is that they live to be active – they spent nearly the entire time running, laughing, and having a blast – it’s a lesson that many adults could learn a lot from. Kids are also so free with their emotions. They wear their joy on their faces openly, and when they are upset about something (like when someone has taken their pink ball), you can tell immediately. I had one little boy who was extremely shy, so his dad helped him out, but eventually he started to get a bit more comfortable. It made my day when he was willing to give me a high five at the end of our practice – it’s funny how such a small gesture can mean so much.
We adults expend a lot of effort in attempts to teach and guide our children, but sometimes, if you take the time to stop, watch, and listen, they can teach you lessons as well. The 45 minute practice went by in a flash, and as I gathered them together at the end I asked them if they had fun. All seemed to have had a great time, and it was at that point that one of the boys made the statement that I opened this post with. His heart was beating hard because he had played hard. In that simple statement, he taught me more than I could ever teach myself about my own exercise habits. After beating myself to a pulp last week out on the road and suffering the consequences of pushing too hard, I decided to run home from soccer practice, about 9.5 miles, and to do so at a slow pace so that I could digest the experience of being “Coach Pete.” Even more, I simply wanted to feel the joy of being outside on a beautiful day, and to experience completely the satisfaction that comes with listening to my heart beat hard because I was having fun doing something that I love.