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My son plays tournament soccer. Our team is not what’s typically referred to as a “club” team, where players’ families shell out $4-6K per year in various expenses, and the kids benefit from professional coaching and hardcore training. Our’s is a volunteer-driven subset of AYSO rec-league soccer that wants to play more competitively. We pay our own way to participate in these tournaments, and more often than not, play against club teams.

Suffice it to say that we’ve taken our lumps so far this year. It’s not that we lack the talent. What we lack is just about everything else. It’s been a struggle to get the boys to come together and play as a team, and it’s frustrating to watch. Instructions shouted in from the sidelines by the coach, and sometimes by the parents (not me . . . ever . . . honest!), often lead to a rather pathetic form of confused chaos on the field, which in turn leads to angst, defeat, and a predictable drop in morale. We’ve made such a habit of losing that, even when we’re in a position to win, we find a way to blow it. Clearly, something needs to change. I’ve long thought that the missing elements in our practice regimen were a bullhorn and a whip. There’s been talk lately about holding some “team-building” exercises – you know, the kind you hear about at corporate retreats, but without the expense account. More on that later.

This weekend was another of those big tournaments, with teams traveling in from all over Arizona, Southern California and even Vegas. And our first game went pretty much like all the others. We could have won. We should have won. We didn’t.

On the field again later that afternoon for the second game, something felt different. We were up against the team that was leading the tournament, yet the boys looked unusually composed. They looked coordinated. They were working together. They were effectively moving the ball and controlling the action. It was then that I realized how peaceful it was on the sidelines. I heard cheering. Just cheering. Absent was the constant barrage of “coaching” that used to drown out everything else. And also missing was the deer-in-the-headlights response that usually followed the coach’s shouted instructions. For the first time, the boys were directing their own play on the field, and we grown-ups were smart enough to let things unfold without interfering. It was truly a zen moment.

The boys played to a scoreless tie in that game, which was actually quite an accomplishment. And, best of all, the boys came off the field with their heads held high, knowing that they had played one of their best games together. We agreed to try the new aproach again for the third game, and guess what? Yep, they won. At the moment, I’m not thinking that a “team-builder” event is necessary. I think we just had one. Could it be that the problem had little to do with the kids?

Sometimes the best thing to do when coaching youth sports is to keep our mouths shut and let the kids play.

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Sometimes I crack myself up, and this weekend was one of those times. Not because I’d made some witty remark or observation, quite the contrary. On this occasion, I unleashed my inner knucklehead.

For several weeks, my youngest daughter has been asking me if I could build a tetherball pole for her. Nothing fancy, just your typical portable model made from and old tire filled with concrete. We’ve all seen them. You roll it out onto the driveway to play, and roll it away when you’re done. It’s a pretty simple piece of engineering.

Determined not to let this turn into another treehouse episode, I said “Sure, no problem!” and made a mental note to follow through this time. Last week, I was at the tire shop for a rotation and balance, so I asked if I could have one of their throw-away tires for the project. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll bag one up and leave it in the back of your car.” Our project was officially underway.

On the way back from a soccer game Saturday afternoon, my son and I made a detour to Home Depot to pick up the remaining items – a section of pipe for the base, another section of pipe for the pole (removable for storage), some miscellaneous hardware and of course, concrete mix. The tire they gave me was pretty big, but I figured four bags of concrete would be about right.

Back home, we started right in. The first task was to cut a section of plywood to act as a “plug” for the underside of the tire. Once that was in place, we were ready to start mixing the mud. After hand-mixing and pouring all four bags of concrete, there was still room left in the tire, and the embedment of the pipe sleeve was less than I wanted. I needed two more bags of mix. We made a mad dash back to the hardware store, and were able to return before the concrete started to set. Those last two bags made all the difference. With the tire filled to perfection and the sleeve securely in place, there was just one last thing to do. As any kid will tell you, no concrete project is done until the handprints are made. Check.

We left it overnight to cure, and went out to inspect it the next morning. I have to say it was a work of art – a quality project, just like we’d imagined, delivered on time and on budget. I was feeling good, and my daughter was brimming with joy and anticipation. So . . . what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that I failed to do a little simple math: Tire – 15 lbs. Six bags of concrete – 360 lbs. Twelve gallons of water to mix the concrete – 96 lbs. Steel pipe – 10 lbs. Grand total – 481 pounds! I can’t move the damn thing!

Like I said, it’s a piece of art.