Thursday, April 13, 2006

Friday Night Lights and Soccer Fags

Coaching a European sport in the Texas hinterlands is a little like being a French chef in a restaurant staffed by backyard barbecuers. It's not that the backyard folks are not good cooks, but that there is no such dish as beer-can foie gras.

In Texas, there are more football special teams coaches who coach soccer than soccer coaches who coach soccer. This is precisely the reason why soccer has found an uneasy niche in the budget allocations of many Athletic Directors. Who cares if the school has to pay for a bunch of fruity kids running around kicking a ball and bouncing it off their heads, Jim Bob gets to keep his obscenely large staff of specialist coaches, and the hierarchy of power is more clearly defined. If you are the soccer guy, you are getting the donuts and coffee on Thursday night when the offensive and defensive coordinators are taking last minute looks at game film . . . unless the girls' soccer coach is there also. Even then, you may have to rock, paper, scissors for the honor.

If, on the other hand, you are a soccer coach who has a soccer background and who was hired to coach soccer, you are pretty much left to yourself. There are numerous reasons for this, but to name a few:

1) Nine times out of ten, soccer and football coaches come from completely different backgrounds, contextually speaking.

2) How do you talk about a sport you do not understand? "Hey Coach D., I saw the soccer game last night. Your guys really kicked the ball into the goal thingy well . . ."

3) The soccer guy's teams are probably beating the bejesus out of the teams coached by the special teams guy who bought Soccer Coaching For Dummies. Aside from putting up with the occasional gay joke around the coaches office ( My favorite goes like this: What's the worst part about telling your parents you play soccer? Answer: Telling them you're gay. Hilarious!), there generally exists a level of respect for anyone who is successful as a coach. Everyone loves a winner, even if that winner strikes you as a little light in the loafers.

On the flip side, most soccer guys know they are the outcasts of the athletic department. The special teams coach thing goes both ways.

Head football guy needs a special teams coach.

Can't afford to hire someone new.

Get the soccer guy to do it!

Then there's the whole "gay" thing. That's tough to miss.

There is, however, a camaraderie that exists between soccer coaches in this great football state and one of the sacred rituals performed to sanctify this bond is to make merciless fun of the football guys (also called pointy ball coaches) who find themselves foreigners on the sidelines of a soccer pitch. And, oh, is there fertile ground for fun-making.

Some of my favorites (yes, another list!):

1) At the kickoff: "Stay in your lanes guys!"

2) While giving a team talk before the match: "Go out there and pop somebody in the mouth!"

3) In protest of a call: "Referee! Did you not see that interference!"

4) On a corner kick: "Alright boys, post up!"

And these are just the quotable one-liners. There are countless other examples of football bafoonery I have witnessed on the sidelines of a soccer match that are not so easily conveyed. For instance, there is the coach who, in a playoff match, instructed his players to, "Defend the field!", even when the ball was well within shooting distance. Instead of compressing the field of play, his players sprinted to the sidelines just in case the attacking player decided the area fifty yards from DEAD CENTER OF GOAL looked to be a more compelling target.

Then there was the pointy ball guy who teamed up with another pointy ball guy and decided to relay information about my team's "scheme" from pressbox to sideline via walky-talky. In a sport like football where fluidity of play is non-existant and timeouts, injuries, and changes of possession all warrant a stoppage, this makes some sense. In addition, football offenses and defenses try to disguise pre-snap formations through movement and spacing so a bird's eye view has its advantages. Soccer is a game of constant movement where eleven players are both offensive and defensive depending upon the situation. I can tell from the touch line when Little Bobby is getting done up and why. The thought of having someone else make a special call to tell me who is sucking at a particular moment is redundant and obnoxious. Plus, when you're on the same sideline as the opposing coach (and you are at a soccer match) you can hear the cackling critique of the walky-talky just as well as he can. A lot of time and effort could have been cut out of the equation if the coach had just walked over and told me his game observations.

Similarly, there is the coach (and I chalk this one up to idiocy, not football) who suggested in friendly conversation while scouting the same match that he would like to get the team with excellent speed on a large field so that he could neutralize their speed. Even the neighborhood fat kid knows he doesn't stand a chance once the freeze tag game is moved from inside to outside. Maybe after they run all over you they'll be winded and you can pull a few back. Wow.

Sometimes, when I get really frustrated coaching my players (and it happens regularly with 14-18 year old boys), all I have to do is look down the sideline at the guy wearing the plum-smugglers and stand-alone mustache and things have a tendency to assume their proper perspective.


Rachel said...

Nicely done. Few minor things-- first paragraph, third sentence, s/v match-up is weird: "the number of outnumbered by the special teams coach..." Second paragraph, "girls' soccer coach." Brilliant metaphor with the French cooking, beer can foie gras thing. Also, maybe my memory of football coaches is a bit fuzzy, but I was shocked that you didn't mention how horribly they dress. Aren't they the ones wearing the polyester plum-smugglers all the time? Or is that baseball? Hmmm...

Rachel said...

Love the changes!