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I have a friend in Phoenix who posted a photo of a huge billboard touting the 2015 Super Bowl.

When I commented on her post, I said I thought “Super Bowl” was a salad-making contest.

I was only half joking.

Some men bond around pro sports teams or NASCAR or outdoor recreational sports. Not me. I am the anti-hero of all things sports.

When I was executive editor at The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., I would joke with the staff during high football season: “That’s the sport where they score baskets, right?”

They knew I was kidding (mostly) but they also knew that when it came to sports stories, be it wrestling, basketball, football, tennis, cross-country, swimming, etc., I had a million questions so I could better understand the rules and the significance of what was at stake.

It’s not that I hate sports; it’s just that I am indifferent to them.

I never engaged in a competitive athletic event in my life.

Dodge ball in gym class doesn’t count. And high school speech and debate club contests don’t qualify either. And chess club, though cutthroat, was hardly a contact sport.

(I did one afternoon in high school run in a Freshman Field Days event in which I ran a 200-yard dash, finishing well ahead of the other racers. Problem was that I quit where I thought the finish line was and it turned out it was still ahead of me, so instead of being first, I was dead last.)

I have huge admiration for athletes and their dedication and training and how hard they are willing to push their bodies for the sake of their passions (or a paycheck).

For instance, I can get interested in watching some of the winter Olympics, such as the skating or bobsledding competitions, which go by quickly and have a defined time limit.

Games that can drag on, like baseball, with sometimes little to show for it, tend to bore me. And other games I just don’t *get* in terms of the objectives or the rules.

Take American football, for instance. Downs. Rushing. Quarters. It’s all some foreign language that I don’t speak.

My wife has expressed gratitude more than once that I’m not one of those guys who is all wrapped up in sports. Yeah, it’s likely I will be watching an episode of “ativan liquid South Carolina” the night the Super Bowl is on.

That’s not to say that I’m a cultural snob or that I look down on sports fans. It’s just not my bag, which I guess makes me different from a lot of guys.

But just to show you that I’m not all indifferent to the Super Bowl, let me wish my favored team good luck.

Go Yankees!

Super Bowl photo 1

 

Photographs by L.J. Thornton

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“Hey, Coach…”

“You got a second, Coach?”

Ughhh. The most hated sentence a volunteer parent coach can ever hear.

Why?

Because nothing good ever follows it. It is always some sort of complaint (my daughter didn’t play enough time), unreasonable request (my daughter should play the whole game) or unsolicited “technical” advice (my daughter should play center forward to beef up your weak 4-3-3 formation).

The only thing I can hope for as the coach is that at least the tone is civil.

I have been a sports coach, mostly soccer, since before I had kids of my own. Having been born in Argentina and with a dad who played some professional soccer in his youth, it was a matter of time before I started chasing and kicking “la redonda” (the round one).

I cut my teeth as a coach while as a young adult serving in the Argentine army. Yep, military conscription was still a thing when I was 20. I filled my off hours by volunteering at the Catholic parish youth soccer league.

In Argentina, soccer is an ingrained part of the culture. Children learn to play even before they are able to walk.

Parents rarely are present during formal coaching sessions and many times absent from games entirely. So I had the great opportunity to learn from experienced coaches and to freely coach a team of 9- and 10-year-old boys, all very talented and skillful little players.

After returning to the U.S. and getting married, it wasn’t until we had our own kids that I returned to coaching. It had been 16 years since I had last run a practice, so I signed up as an assistant coach because I wanted to see how things were done in the U.S., now my naturalized home.

By week No. 2 into that, my rookie season, the head coach suddenly had an out-of-town project to work on, and just like the plot of a bad sitcom, I inherited a team of uncoordinated, uninterested first graders to play a game I had learned to play structurally and properly. After setting up some drills to run, it did not take long for bedlam to ensue.

After a few weeks I started to get into the rhythm of the players (know thy audience) and scaled down the drills to more fun games that happened to involve a soccer ball.

Kids were having fun and I managed to sneak in some soccer drills disguised as fun. During their matches the team scored some goals and won some games.

Hurray!

Until…

My first encounter with an upset parent. Fortunately for me, this one didn’t go as it was playing out in my head. I had just finished getting the kids set up for a soccer drill when I saw out of the corner of my eye a mom dragging a red-headed boy by the hand and in my direction with a very determined look on her face.

The boy was one of my talented players but not good at following directions. I was expecting the worst from his mom. What occurred was unexpected but very welcome. After dragging her son, who was struggling against her, in my direction, she stopped short of coming straight up to me.

Instead she dropped to a knee, grabbed her son by the cheeks, pointed at me and without breaking her gaze into his eyes said: “This is your coach and you will listen to and do as he says. Do you understand me?!”

Then she shook my hand without saying anything else and walked away.

In the following years I became very adept at coaching a recreational team of players.

“Recreational” meant that you always had at least four players who were more interested in playing in the dirt, viewing cloud forms or chasing a passing butterfly than in the ball being kicked toward them.

As their coach, my hands were raw from clapping and my throat hoarse from yelling encouragement to a player running in circles far from where that ball was being played.

It is a part of the mantra of recreational sports. All children play regardless of skill, and they should all be encouraged enthusiastically and equally. It can be very tiring for a volunteer coach, but very satisfying as well.

And then it started. “Coach, you got a second?”

Sure, I thought, as I turned with a big smile. What would follow would always be, my kid isn’t receiving enough playing time, etc. etc. In my head I would reply, “How could he? He is too busy digging up ants as the opposing team barrel through your kid’s area on the field!”

Instead, I would smile and think back on that first parental encounter.