My twins’ last AYSO soccer game was this Saturday. After ten weeks of bonding, we team parents are kind of sad that our boys won’t be getting together for games any more, but we’re looking forward to the after-game party we’ve planned. It’s going to be a fun event with pizza (for the kids), beer (for the grownups), a father-son soccer match, a trophy awarding ceremony. We’re also presenting the team coach with a present to thank him for everything he has done.
Since no one else made a motion, I decided to take upon myself to rally the other parents and take up a collection for a thank-you present. I hate having to ask people to pony up some cash, and I have having to follow up even more, but there was no way I was going to let the season end without making sure our coach got some token of appreciation for his efforts. AYSO parent coaches are truly selfless; they must really, really, love their sons, or really, really love the game, or both. To start with, they have to attend all kinds of workshops and seminars. Then they must commit to attend every practice and game. They have to store a million soccer balls, vests, and cones, and haul them to every practice. They’re usually the first to arrive, and the last to leave.
Other parents drop their kids off with nary a thought, but the coach doesn’t get to leave. I’ve often wondered what coaches would do if one of the players were injured in practice — would he have to drag all twelve boys to the emergency room? Coaches have to babysit a dozen kids for an hour. They deal with temper tantrums, hurt feelings, poor sportsmanship and goofing off — and I’m not talking about just the kids. He’s also got to maneuver around overexcited parents who yell their own coaching instructions from the sidelines and mutter about their boy needing to be given more game time because he’s the best one on the team (news flash: he isn’t). It’s such a thankless job, and it’s unpaid to boot.
So what does one get for someone who’s done so much? I asked more seasoned AYSO parents, and suggestions ranged from the practical (gift cards) to the tacky (a trophy) to the extravagant (gear bags embroidered with the coach’s name). Practical won out, but I wasn’t really sure what kind of gift card to buy. I could buy one for a restaurant or sports bar, but how do I know which ones he likes? I could buy a Peet’s or Starbucks card, but $100 worth of coffee seems like overkill. A regular old Visa gift card is too much like handing him a wad of cash, and I’m not sure he’d want a gift card for a spa treatment or massage. In the end, exhausted from overthinking the matter, I got a gift card to the Stanford Shopping Center, so he could choose from a wide range of stores.
But the part of the thank-you present I’m most excited about is the $10 coach’s clipboard I found at our local Big 5 Sporting Goods store. It has a diagram of a soccer field on it, so if he’s ever crazy enough to take on coaching duties again, he can use it to map out plays with a dry-erase pen. The reverse side has a player roster where he can write out the names and positions of his players — but he won’t be able to use it, because I got each and every one of the boys on the team to write their shirt numbers and names on it with a permanent marker. It took a few weeks of surreptitious meetings in parking lots before and after practice to get every kid to sign it. I told them it was a secret present for the coach; of course that meant that every kid would be whispering and giggling and crowding around me, making it impossible for the coach not to know that something was up. But the end result is beautiful: twelve names, painstakingly written by 12 different 6-year old boys’ shaky hands.
It may not be an embroidered gear bag, but I’m hoping that when our coach receives his clipboard, he’ll know that our gratitude goes beyond gift cards and trophies. Hopefully, when he uses that clipboard in the years to come, he’ll smile whenever he turns it over and sees their names. Hopefully he’ll be able to look back and remember that even though there may have been times when it felt like he was babysitting 12 little monsters, more often than not he was actually shaping 12 eager young minds and bodies, and teaching them to love the Beautiful Game.