When Sophia and I returned from camp at the end of August, there was an email waiting in my inbox:
Become part of history as Youth Field Hockey begins its inaugural season in [our town]!
A group of dedicated moms were starting a program that extended all the way down to first grade.
When I was in school, I had wanted to play field hockey. In gym, I loved smacking the ball around the field, spiriting it away from my opponents, playing D and supporting the goalie. But when it came to joining the team, I was too convinced of my own clumsiness (I had the bruises to prove it), too lacking in self-confidence, too scared to try.
When I proposed the game to Sophie, she was unconvinced by my poor but enthusiastic description of how the game is played.
“I don’t think I want to do that,” she said, eying me sideways.
“Okay,” I said, because I have learned never to argue with someone shorter than me.
My husband suggested that we show her some YouTube videos. Give her a sense of what it is all about.
But I had to act fast, because apparently I had missed the sign-up deadline. I sent a pleading email to the organizer, casually offering to “help in anyway I could” to sweeten the deal. I pictured bringing the kids orange slices at half time. If field hockey has a half time.
I immediately got an email back, requesting that I drop off a check that day. Another email followed congratulating me on my decision to help coach.
Thank you all for your offer to assist with coaching this inaugural season of [Our Town] Youth Field Hockey League (HYFHL)!
So, after investing $100 in the equipment, Sophia and I Googled “field hockey for girlsNot only did I need to convince her of field hockey’s appeal, I needed a crash course. .” I found a bevy of homemade instructional videos. Chipper pony-tailed teens smiling broadly to show off their mouth guards and aggressively smacking a hard little ball with a curved stick.
“Wait. Teenagers do this?” Sophie asked. She was sold.
But as game day drew close, I grew more anxious. Convinced of my own clumsiness. Lacking self confidence. A little scared to try. Old fears casting a long shadow.
We showed up for practice, and I met the other coaches. They were all extremely strong-looking women who had played field hockey, in college. When I pleaded my lack of experience, Coach H assured me that she just needed someone to “wrangle.”
Wrangling entailed trying to get the girls to stand in a straight line, while responding to the following:
“Can I go to the bathroom?”
“My shin guards are itching me!”
“Do I have to wear my mouthguard?”
“Coach, M., my goggles are too tight!”
“My hair thing fell out, can you put it back in?”
“When is it going to be time to take a water break?”
They didn’t need another coach. They needed a team mom. I started tending to the flock, when I was approached by one, apologetic, very muscular mom.
“Excuse me, uh, Melissa,” she said reading my nametag, “do you have your certification?”
“Rutgers certification. You need it to be out on the field. “
“Um. No, I was just helping out.”
“It’s a liability thing, so you don’t get sued. There’s a three-hour course being offered Monday night at the high school. You should take it,” she was encouraging. “But in the meanwhile, could you just hang out on the sidelines.”
Kicked off the field on the first day. Sigh. I was just getting the hang of this coaching thing.
The next Monday night, I found myself listening to a local high school football coach read off a set of slides for three hours. I walked out a card-carrying coach. Coach H seemed really pleased. I was too, though I still didn’t know a damn thing about field hockey.
But neither do these six-year-old girls. They’re out there to have fun. Smack the ball around a little, spirit it away from their teammates, and loosely dribble it down the field to take a shot on goal. And as I stand out there, herding the field of kittens, I’m just glad I didn’t miss my chance to get in the game.
This post was inspired by Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, a novel where former Olympic hopeful Dan destroys his swimming career and his attempt at redemption after prison. Join From Left to Write on September 30th as we discuss Barracuda. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.