Thank You Coach O’Neill

“Leap and the net will appear.”

John Burroughs

My daughter had never been part of a team before so I had no idea what to expect. I have to admit, at first I was a bit worried. But she’s an amazing kid. I knew she’d be fine. Then my wife went to the first practice and quickly noticed that my daughter was the only girl on the team. That’s okay, it will toughen her up I thought to myself. It will help prepare her for life’s many challenges.

And I was right. Her experience this past fall did help prepare her for what is yet to come. But it had nothing to do with toughness. To be quite honest, I don’t even really know what that means. No, her experience this fall allowed her to witness firsthand what it means to be kind. And what it means to help others to believe in themselves.

The pieces that I write almost always feature some member of my family as the main character. But not this one. No, this one is about my daughter’s first soccer season and the man who made it special.

Being the only girl on her team did worry my daughter a little bit, but there was nothing we could do about that. But as I mentioned above, this piece is not about us. So let me begin.

Oftentimes we would arrive at practice early. Most of the time there were already a few boys on the field just casually kicking the ball around. My daughter would always wait until the coach arrived to join them though. I think she just felt more comfortable once he was there. He was good at that. Practices were always a happy time because he was always able to channel the kids’ infinite energy into something fun. Towards the end of the season practices would run all the way until dusk. The boys, and one girl, loved to scrimmage against each other and that was often the way they would end practice. Both sides doing all they could to score just more than the other. It’s amazing how often these scrimmages would end in a tie. Or was it?

Saturdays always made my daughter nervous because they involved the actual games in which her team had an opponent. These mornings often began with butterflies in my daughter’s stomach, yet they were always gone by the time the last whistle blew. She always got to play the same amount as every other player on her team. I realize that all youth league coaches were suppose to abide by this, but not all did. It didn’t matter what the score was and it didn’t matter the skill level of the player. Each kid was on the field for the exact same number of minutes.

Once the games began I think I was more worried than my daughter. I knew that not only was she nervous, but that she would be encountering situations for which she was not prepared. She was just learning the game and she was playing against kids whose skill level oftentimes far exceeded her’s. I soon realized that that was not why these games were being played. I should have known this, having worked with children for over half of my life. But this was my daughter and I had forgotten.

During the games I would watch from the sideline. Every few minutes she would come out and her teammates would go in. This happened several times a game. And every time, without fail, the coach would encourage the players. He would always make sure to find something positive to say to each kid. It didn’t matter if my daughter had just made ten mistakes. He would remember the one success she had had and he would remind her of it.

There was one moment in particular that I will never forget. It was halftime and they were in a close game. I think it was tied if I’m not mistaken. As a former athlete who had spent the first half of his life playing team sports, I was curious as to how the coach was going to fire the team up to go out and take it to their opponents in the second half. Maybe he would summon up his best Vince Lombardi and the kids would be so inspired that they would charge the field willing to do whatever it took to win the game.

I couldn’t wait to hear what he had in mind. I crept up near the team so I could listen.

And what came next was awesome! I didn’t see it coming. But based on every moment leading up that to that one, I should have.

halftime

 “How much fun was that?”

What?

My daughter’s team was in the midst of a close game and these are words that came out of her coach’s mouth?

Absolutely perfect!

If for no other reason than to experience that moment, my daughter’s first soccer season was a success. And what’s more, there were many more moments just like that one. I will never forget the year my daughter played for Coach O’Neill. Not only did she grow, but I did as well. I got to witness firsthand what it means to truly love kids and to help  them learn to feel good about themselves.

The last game was bittersweet. We knew we would now have more free time on Saturdays, but we also knew that this may be the last time that our daughter would ever get to play for Coach O’Neill. Her team ended up winning the game, but that was actually irrelevant. After the game each player received their medals of participation. They huddled up and Coach O’Neill said something nice about each player. It was great.

Look carefully at the photo below. Notice how my daughter’s coach gently placed his hands on her shoulders as he praised her season. He meant and felt every word that came out of his mouth. And she knew it.

shoulders

When we signed our daughter up for her first soccer season we had no idea what to expect. We were scared, excited and nervous all at the same time. And once I realized that my daughter would be the only girl on the team and that most of the kids had already played before, I worried a little more. I convinced myself that no matter how she did, that the experience would make her tougher.

In the end I really don’t know if my daughter came away from the experience any tougher or not and I really don’t care. She didn’t score a goal and I don’t have any idea what her team’s record was or where they placed. But take a good look at the photo below. I mean a real good look.

self

You see the medal around her neck? Nice.

Do you notice her teammate clapping for her? Awesome!

More than anything though, do you notice the confidence in her stride and the look in her eyes? Priceless!!!

Coach O’Neill helped my daughter to feel good about herself.

Tell me what more you could ever want for your child than what I saw in my daughter at that moment.

I can’t think of a single thing.

Thank You Coach O’Neill!

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4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Very cool!!!! Great to see your daughter having such a great experience. Pictures like those are priceless. Sounds like Coach O’Neill is a great person. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jon, such a touching piece! Once again, you’ve managed to recreate an experience for your readers that we can relate to, and on so many levels. I’m going to vox you about this, because if I start writing, I’ll wind up writing a blog post in the comment box. This is one of my favorite topics that you’ve written about so far…

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Jon.

    Dennis

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