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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.

It took less than 24 hours for the Republican Party to capitalize on its new power to filibuster. With Scott Brown now sworn into office as the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts in a generation, breaking the Democratic super-majority, things are heating up fast.

First out of the gate: Richard Shelby, the Republican Senator from Alabama, wants $40 billion, and he’s threatening to bring Washington to a standstill until he gets it.

In a recent post, I predicted that we’ve yet to see the worst in Washington. With today’s news, it appears that not only was I right on the money, but the obstructionist behavior is more immediate, more blatant and more egregious than even I could have imagined. How is this not extortion? How can anyone who cares about our country, regardless of political affiliation, defend this conduct?

Maybe, just maybe, the Republicans have gone too far this time. Maybe the blind followers will wake up and see that the corruption in Washington is too big to ignore. Maybe regular folks from all over the nation will pause and say “You know, that’s not the way we want our government to operate.”

Maybe I’m dreaming, but it’s hard to imagine how bad things could get if we let this continue.

Today feels much like the day that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term in office.

I sit in shock and utter disbelief at the choices we make as a nation. I would have expected this from rural ranchers and Bible-thumping southerners drinking the conservative kool-aid, but these were folks from the most-educated and liberal state in the Union. I saw this post today from Mitchell Bard, and he’s done a fantastic job of capturing my sentiments. It’s worth a read.

I’m not angry, I’m disheartened. There may well be continued efforts to make some meaningful progress on health care reform, but with the Republicans in control we can be certain that any potential reforms will neither be meaningful nor progressive. Such concepts cut against the fabric that cloaks their greed and power. Looking forward, we can expect that every new initiative the Administration puts forth will be promptly and earnestly blocked by the Republicans, not on the merits of the legislation, but simply because they can.

One year ago today, Barack Obama took office as President of the United States. He brought a message of hope, and for me, the hope was that our new leader would have the courage to propose big ideas to make meaningful changes, even if the proposals were politically risky and could jeopardize his prospects for re-election.

That hope is gone now, because our Republican friends have zero interest in doing anything that could upset their ultra-conservative, wealthy and religious base. They’ll simply stall until the November elections, because if you do nothing, you can always blame the other guys. And looking at yesterday’s election results, we’re clearly dumb enough to fall for it.

I’m not one of those people who can’t live without my daily Starbucks fix, but we were fresh out of coffee at work this morning. And being somewhat addicted to caffeine, I needed some java to snap me out of my Monday morning coma. No big deal, I thought, and grabbed a handful of change out of my desk drawer and walked down to Starbucks. 

The patio outside seemed awfully quiet, and when I gave the door handle a pull . . . nothing. My friendly neighborhood Starbucks was closed for renovations. As I lingered outside the locked door to ponder my options, a small group of people passed by on the sidewalk. One of them was a young blonde gal, about five feet tall and wearing what must have been five-inch heels, and I couldn’t help but notice her DD’s.  

Uh-huh, you know what I’m talking about . . .

Dunkin Donuts. There was a store right across the street, but I’d never been there. I’d heard so many people rave about it, and read stories about how DD’s and McD’s are both stealing market share from Starbucks. “Just as good as Starbucks, only way cheaper,” or so I’ve been told. I was skeptical. The same claim had been made about McDonald’s coffee, and I was hugely disappointed. But, with limited options, I figured I’d give it a shot.

First, let me dispell the myth about DD’s being way cheaper. At $1.49 for a 14-oz cup, I found the difference in price to be negligible – about two cents per ounce. And the taste test? BLAAAACH.

Allow me to clarify. Unlike McD’s, the coffee wasn’t wimpy and watered down. It had plenty of punch, it was just a nasty punch. I was reminded of the coffee that you get in your hotel room – those tiny little packets that go with those tiny little coffee makers. The flavor isn’t very good, but if you’re desperate, it’ s better than nothing. DD’s was more like taking two or three of those packets and brewing the same pot of coffee. Still bad, only more so.

All of this makes me wonder, if DD’s and McD’s are faring so well against Starbucks in blind taste tests, who’s doing the tasting? Probably the same folks who like Velveeta on their hot dogs.

Daughters,” the hit song by John Mayer, touches on the enduring scars that a broken home can leave on a little girl’s heart and psyche, and how those scars can impact the girl’s own relationships as an adult. It’s a moving piece, and worthy of a good listen. But as much as I love the song, I think it stops just short of revealing a more subtle lesson. 

If we are lucky in life, we’re treated to a healthy sampling of what I like to call “a-ha” moments – a sudden clarity or understanding of something on a new and deeper level. One day, many years ago, I got a whopper.

My wife and I were having one of our frequent conversations about raising kids. The topic this time was patience, discipline, and unconditional love. I don’t recall the particulars of what led to the discussion, but I suspect that I had some harsh words with my little girl, made an angry face, and allowed her to walk away in tears. No doubt it was another one of those situations when, as a young father, I felt at a loss to handle things differently. That’s when I was given an amazing gift.

She explained to me that, as her father, I am (by default) my little girl’s vision of what a man is supposed to be. Everything that I say and do shapes the way that she sees herself, and her place in the world. It establishes a baseline for what is normal in relationships. If I am loving, patient, gentle and caring, then those behaviors will become ingrained and “set the bar” for how she will expect to be treated by the boys and men in her life. On the other hand, the girl who grows up in a harsh and abusive setting will expect and tolerate the same treatment from others – boyfriends, her husband, etc. She will forfeit respect and dignity, and never know real love.

It was a sobering thought. The light bulb went on. This new awareness enabled me to look at things through a different lens, and since that day, I’ve never lost sight of my most important role as a father. I will be eternally grateful for learning this lesson early, before any harm could be done. My little girl is now a teenager, and for her, just about every day brings new challenges. It’s not always easy, but from what I can see, I think she’s going to make it.

Not long ago, we lived for a few years in a smallish town in northern California, far removed from the hustle and bustle of big-city life that we had always known. It was a grand experiment, a change of scenery and lifestyle – one of those things that you don’t think too much about until you’re raising a family. We had blue skies, clean air, lakes and rivers all around us, and trees. Lots and lots of trees!

We bought a home on the edge of town. It came with an acre of land for the kids to run around, and a small creek that wound its way through the front of the property. Oh yeah, and it had trees. So many trees that we actually had to cut a few dozen of them to allow some sunlight to reach the ground. And finally, the kids could have a real treehouse.

It was scenic and serene and . . . it needed a lot of work. I imagine that most people would move into the house, carve the home improvement effort into bite-size pieces, and tackle the projects one at a time. Not us. We’d been through a home remodel before, and if we learned anything, it was that our little weekend projects tended to become half-completed eyesores.

We spent about four months renovating the place before finally moving in. Portions of the house were gutted to open up the space and allow daylight to creep in. We put in a brand new kitchen, hardwood flooring, and new carpet. We painted – everything. A handsome new woodstove graced one corner of the room. It was finally starting to look and feel like home. There were still some projects to be finished, but alas I was out of time (and out of money), and it was time to get on with our lives.

As any parent knows, the demands of kids’ activities will test even the most organized of families. With soccer, music lessons, scouts, and a host of school activities, it was hard to even think about finishing some of those projects around the house, much less find the energy to actually do them. But we still talked about the treehouse. We wandered the yard, sizing up all the different locations. We considered the size and shape of the trees, their location relative to the other playground amenities, and of course, the view potential. We talked about ladders and slides and rope swings, even a bridge to a platform in the neighboring tree. I drew some sketches, and thought about all the details, the materials I’d need. This was going to be one awesome treehouse!

I’m embarassed to admit that we never built it. At some point, I’d become so wrapped up in the idea of making this great treehouse, that I lost sight of why we were doing it. Instead of building something for the kids, I’d taken it on as a personal quest to make it bigger and better than it needed to be. The design was never quite good enough, we were busy with other things, and time gradually slipped away. I had squandered the opportunity, and denied my kids the chance to enjoy one of childhood’s great treats.

We still own the house. Another family has lived in it for about a year now. A couple of weeks ago, we were back in the area on vacation, and we took a drive through the old neighborhood. Not much had changed. We drove past the house to see if everything looked to be in order, and turned up a side street that offered a glimpse into the backyard. Peering through the trees, I suddenly felt a sickness in my stomach that I may never forget. It was as if all of the blood had drained from my body. There, in the corner of the yard, stood a treehouse. It wasn’t big. It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t have all the neat stuff. But it was there, and I imagine those kids think it’s just perfect.