Based upon an idea suggested by Deborah Pergola
[Disclaimer: About 80-90% of this story is actually almost true]
Coach had a big day ahead of him: there were six teams that he needed to guide to glory, and not a single player among them could be relied upon to follow instructions. They would not listen, they wandered, they cried, they ran in the wrong direction – why oh why did he agree to use his near-pro soccer skills to teach 5-year-olds? Too late to back out of volunteering now: word spread in a small town.
He spotted the rugrats in their cute matching uniforms milling around the outside of their designated field with their hovering parents in charge of the gear, water bottles, and comfort stuffed animals. Taking charge of the borderline chaos, he summoned the children onto the field so they could “practice,” as in “learn to not touch the ball with their hands.” Each child brought their own soccer ball for this portion and one inevitably escaped from its owner, who chased it to the neighboring, more advanced field. Coach was too far away to interfere when he saw two older kids pick up the child’s ball – he could not abandon the flock to go after one sheep, and Mom was on the move to intercept anyway.
“Can I have my ball back, please?” Little tyke tried to politely assert himself.
“Don’t see your name on it!” The ringleader responded, and both boys laughed cruelly until the one holding the ball glanced down at it and saw the lettering. “Oh there it is; here you go,” he said, tossing it back to the younger player and strolling with his buddy to the field where the coaches yell at all the players. Mom steered her child to the proper field and he was absorbed back into the group.
Coach continued the drills, losing track of how many times each of the players fell over their own feet and/or needed their shoelaces tied. With the revolving door of players, he finally realized why he had been asked if he had an eidetic memory when he had been interviewed for the position: by his count, across all six teams there were four Jacks, three Rachels, two D.J.s (although one of those actually may have been a T.J.), and seven Josephs. Memorizing their names was the best and really only way to get their undivided attention, however brief it lasted.
After practice, the real game began. Much as with herding cats, Coach felt that a strong hand was needed in corralling the former toddlers to their rightful places on the field. There already had been tears when one child panicked at whether he was supposed to stand at right forward or right defense, and another kept moving off-sides before the ball was even placed at center field. At Coach’s whistle, the blank faces stood there for several moments before his encouraging instructions of “Kick the ball!” finally registered as something they would want to do, and nearly all 12 players from both teams ran forward simultaneously to kick the ball. Their little legs tangling up in each other, the ball was the only item on the field safe from their feet (even those of the ringers). Some tumbles later, the ball was on the move and a point was unbelievingly scored (into the team’s own goal, but nevertheless). The shock of actual coordinated action was enough to make Coach drop the whistle and almost overlook the three other soccer balls and a kid from the next team on the schedule that had appeared randomly on the field.
Since their stamina was minimal, the game/play date ended in less than 15 minutes, yet managed to score more goals than most soccer games played for real. Having reached time, Coach forced the players from each team to give each other high fives so that the rivalry bloodlust could be staved off until they at least reached high school. They then got to enjoy their victory snacks, whereas he had to repeat the cycle of the past half hour again and again until the field ran out of children.
He supposed there were worse ways to spend a Saturday.