April 2009 Column Winner

There’s a lot in a name – especially if it’s ‘Coach’
Christian Potts - The Norman Transcript

News Editor Christian Potts spent the last two months as a first-time volunteer coach in the 3- and 4-year-old indoor soccer league at the Cleveland County Family YMCA. I used to ask coaches during my journey as a sportswriter what the hardest part of coaching is.

Is it motivating kids, or knowing all the X’s and O’s? Or is it dealing with personalities? Or perhaps at the higher level it’s the pressure from fans or from powerful boosters of the program.

Those answers are all wrong. I found out what it is. It’s coming up with a team name.

That was one of my two goals at our first practice. I did fine with the first, learning everyone’s name. The only one I called by the wrong name was my own daughter, who I used her sister’s name on twice. She’s kind of used to that anyway. But the second one, the team name goal, was harder than I expected.

“OK, guys, huddle up.”

The preschoolers crowd around me, looking me in the eye or grabbing at my shirt and my whistle as I kneel. “So we need a name for our team,” I say.

“The Batmans!” Robert shouts.

“How about the Spidermans!” chimes in Nathan, trying to distract me as he manages to swipe the whistle. Carys and Allyson look at me with two of those “are you kidding me” looks.

“That isn’t a good name. How about the Princesses?” “Yes, princesses,” adds little Bella, our youngest player, showing a little smile that melts the coach.

“Nooooooooo!!” shout all the boys.

I can sense trouble starting. I don’t need a mutiny 15 minutes into my first-ever practice as a coach, before we’ve even played a game. So I table the issue for a later meeting. Jeff Capel, you’ve got it easy. Your team already had a name before you got here.

•••

Well, the season ended a week ago and we’re still nameless. But even without a collective name, we have plenty of names you ought to know.

Evan is one of the quickest 4- year-olds I’ve ever seen and can already kick the ball like he’s a lot older. Gabriel is a bundle of energy and already a two-year veteran at taekwon- do. Pick on the coach and he’ll beat you up. Nolen has all the talent in the world and is a future star. Nathan can run fast, kick a soccer ball and tell you a funny story all at the same time.

Prailey follows in the footsteps of her older brother, one of my regular helpers at practice. They both can flat-out play. This won’t be the last time her name is in this newspaper regarding soccer.

Camilo already can crush the ball with either foot. Good pals Robert and Jonathan score goals in bunches when they aren’t tackling each other like football players at practice. They are tough customers.

Lucas is one of our star defenders, but he scored one of my favorite goals of the season. The night before our first game, I woke up about 3 a.m. from a bad dream, where our game started and our players just stood there still as could be. Like statues. The other team scored about 300 goals and we didn’t even kick the ball once. Needless to say, I was pretty happy when Lucas scored a couple of minutes into the first game. Of course, I wouldn’t have been here at all without Allyson, who decided she wanted to play after kicking a ball all over my living room for months. She’s a picture of joy and energy, and she now kicks the ball more accurately - all over the living room.

Her buddies Carys and Bella have brought the color pink into the center of fashion for soccer. Don’t be deceived. They’re pretty tough little players too.

Being called “Coach,” even by kids as young as these - especially by kids as young as these - brings a real responsibility. It started a little unexpectedly. I found out writing on your child’s signup sheet “can help out if needed” often translates into “getting to be in charge.”

We’re not worried about winning and losing yet. At this age and for several more years, they correctly don’t even keep score at the games. But there is a foundation being laid for being good teammates and good sports, for learning about whether they like soccer and more opportunity to make friends in a positive setting.

And as good as the feeling is when you’re playing a game and do something well to win it, the feeling of watching your kids go out and do it and succeed and feel great about it is 100 times better.

I’ll never be Bob Stoops or Sherri Coale. But I think the kids on my team wouldn’t care. I think if I turned up in the same place as Coach Stoops they would be a lot more excited about seeing me.

That’s responsibility.