First League Game
Arriving at the first game, I am astounded to see all the girls are already at the field. The other team is already warming up. Our players are excited and nervous, and getting them to focus is a challenge. As we move through our standard pre-game warm up, I sense my own anxiety and go through my own relaxation exercise. I am trying to appear carefree and nonchalant, hoping to calm down the players, but I am unsure how successful I am.
We have decided to make sure that players have scrimmaged as a goalkeeper before having to play the position at a league game, hopeful this will reduce the anxiety that the girls feel playing goalkeeper. The time has come to start the game and remembering our first scrimmage, we try to put together a line-up that is not completely foreign to the team so that they can start in an organized fashion. We have all of our substitutes present and we will need to make sure we get everyone into the game for fair playing time but I am too distracted to grab my stopwatch and clipboard to accurately monitor playing time. I also forgot to bring a chair, so am left to pace the sideline. The game starts and the father of my goalkeeper is standing at the 6 yard line telling his daughter the goalkeeper what to do. I get his attention and tell him to stop. He gives me a dirty look. My daughter, standing next to me, wears her “Coaches coach, Parents cheer” t-shirt but he doesn’t notice. Apparently he didn’t read the papers I sent home earlier. As coaches, we believe that the players have to make their own decisions in game situations to truly learn and frown on micromanaging player actions.
At practice, we have not worked on the special rules for goalkeepers and we end up giving up indirect kicks in the penalty area when our goalkeeper misses the punt and picks up the ball again, and then later when she picks up a ball passed back from a teammate. The goalkeeper is about to punt the ball and I try to instruct her to not pick the ball up in case she puts it on the ground; unfortunately I am flustered and use another players name! The player whose name I called dutifully runs back and takes the ball from goalkeeper – a hand ball in the box! The other coach instructs the referee to ignore the PK and I learn my lesson again – leave teaching to the practice field! The first half ends 0-0.
The second half starts and I finally feel more relaxed. We are making some good combinations and I focus on trying to keep our stronger players from overplaying the field. The other team stations a coach at the goal to micromanage their goalkeeper’s actions but I ignore the situation, perhaps still feeling sheepish about confusing my own team with instructions. Despite the coaches’ help, we score about 10 minutes in. We substitute to make sure we get enough playing time for everyone. Despite the constant direction, the other team’s goalkeeper exits the penalty area holding the ball and the Referee calls the handball. I request for the referee to instruct the player and not to award us a free kick Five minutes elapse and our midfield is collapsing, failing to hold the ball and we allow the other team to score. There is little to do but applaud the goal. We strengthen our backfield with a timely substitute but we can do nothing for midfield; we end tied 1-1.
Second League Game
Unlike the first game, when I arrive at the park none of our girls have arrived; I look around to see that the other team have all arrived. They are coached by one of the coaches selected to coach All-Stars, meaning he is known as a good coach. I am interested to see if his team is coached to win or coached to learn. As his team begins warm-ups, I feel a little anxiety at our empty sideline; but soon our girls are arriving. We end up with one substitute, and she is not feeling well; I offer her the goalkeeper’s bib but she refuses.
Our second game and the youth referee is once again a player from our competitive program that I have coached 10 years previous. It feels good to see players that you have influenced continuing to participate in the league as they grow older. The game begins and this time I brought my chair; it reminds me to sit down, relax, and limit my direction to reminders regarding position and playing with speed. Our substitute enters the game and plays her heart out, leaving the game to throw up. The other team is good and we are down 0-2 at halftime.
The second half starts and I have mixed up the line-up again. We have our fourth different goalkeeper; one for each half we have played in league. Soon we are down 0-3; but our left midfielder starts attacking up the sideline and sending crosses into the box. I am proud of her left footed shot that dribbles harmlessly to the goalie; she is working on her bad foot! She later scores after working her way through the defense in combination with the left forward; the combination play pleasing if not highly effective. We possess the ball far more than the other team and the other coach is becoming much more vocal. In a repeat of the first goal, our left midfielder again scores from the left side. The other coach immediately substitutes his goalkeeper and replaces her with his starting goalkeeper; I cannot resist goading him, telling our team that “the coach is worried and had to replace his goalkeeper.” The answer of how his team is coached is answered.
We continue to apply pressure on both sides of our attack and soon a loose ball in the box is driven home by our back, who is having trouble remembering her position. I do not remind her. The game is now tied and the tension on the other side of the field is obvious. The other team makes two great shots that are saved by our goalkeeper, the second results in a corner kick for the other team. As I stare in disbelief, the other coach, desperate to win, sends his goalkeeper up to the box for the corner kick. I find myself wondering what part of the game of soccer he is teaching her. The final whistle blows and the game ends 3-3.
After our first week in league, we remain undefeated. Our girl’s confidence is soaring but there is still a long way to the end of the season.