Sport has been a well of vitality that has nourished me since I was a young child. Growing up in Homer, playing hockey and soccer with my friends was essential. To connect with others and face challenges, of which many arose, brought me a dynamic environment that helped me grow.
Throughout my progression as a player I was graced with the leadership of many exceptional coaches. From the time I was only 3 years old and being taught to skate by Kevin Bell, after whom the Kevin Bell Arena is named, to my final sports season in Homer, at age 18, playing soccer with Warren Waldorf as my coach, I felt inspired and encouraged by my teachers.
Having just returned to Homer after graduating from college in Portland, Oregon, I decided to attempt to give the youth of our community a similar sort of empowering relationship that my coaches gave me.
This summer I signed up to coach youth soccer with Homer United Football Club, and arrived at the Homer High School field at the beginning of June with nervous anticipation and hope for something beautiful to occur.
In school I studied philosophy and psychology, so much of my past four years was spent in a slew of academia and abstract thought. However, in none of my classes was I assailed with questions delivered with the same sort of determination and significance by which a 7-year-old can ask, “Are we scrimmaging today?” or, “When’s lunch?”
Those questions were posed to me in greater quantity than anything that might have been queried in my existentialism or cognition classes. Sometimes they caused a similar type of headache, however.
Quickly my naivete of the nuance of being childish while still being a coach began to dissolve.
Three days a week I would work with kids primarily aged 5 to 9. We would kick soccer balls, but they were only the vehicle that we used to have an excuse to enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill, understanding how to be a team, and run, run, run. It was my job to organize the structures in which we would have chances to accomplish these goals.
Sharks and Minnows was a favorite. Trying to tag your friends who are desperate to make it to the other side of the field unscathed is an event with ultimate significance for a child in the sun.
The joy of the children was infectious, and I often found myself giggling as kids ran around, screaming with glee for reasons only known to them or just from pure excitement.
And for all the loud, rambunctious or goofy moments, of which there were many, there were also many quieter exchanges. I sat on grass fields under the outpouring of a blazing sun or blanketed by gray clouds and listened to children tell me stories — stories about the sandhill cranes which they had given names to; about the fun camping trips they went on with their families; about the issues they had with the rules of the game we had just played.
In many ways I enjoyed my opportunities to be receptive, listening with attention and follow-up questions, far more than my responsibility to give instruction or share insight.
However, I ended up enjoying that too. The process of coaching helped me turn from the study of words and thoughts to the unstoppable flow of human connectivity, lived in the supporting structure of the sport of soccer. I found myself feeling much better with the children when I let my rumination go, insisting on conversing or quipping with kids reflexively instead of dwelling on speaking in right.
Quite honestly, I learned to trust myself much more during this summer of coaching. I learned that I can enjoy the simplicity of childhood while also managing to be the best responsible caretaker and teacher I can be.
What’s more, the children learned to trust me too, as I did for them. After days spent in the dry summer sun, or tired July clouds, we all took to caring for one another more and more.
As is often the case with children, our goodbye at the end of the summer contained little pretense or convention. We huddled together and I told them I was proud, and they said goodbye and left.
If I managed to cement myself in their memories as a warm glowing figure who helped them feel cared for, like so many of my own Homer coaches are for me in my reminiscing, then I am satisfied.
Reach Charlie Menke at email@example.com.