I pulled the back of my t-shirt higher up my neck, hoping to prevent sunburn as I faced away from the sun. We were at our first soccer game of the day; Garfield’s team–coached by Mike–had so far held the opposing team to zero. But they faced a tough challenge.
Our boys have always played with the YMCA, which emphasizes participation and learning over competition. Our boys love to win, of course. Mike and I love that we don’t have to travel out of town for games.
This past Saturday, the family members of both teams set up our chairs and water bottles on the same side of the field. Nobody wanted to face into the sun. Our cheering for our own children’s teams got all jumbled together. That is, except for the two teen girls (big sisters of the players, perhaps) who evidently had experience playing soccer and loudly commented on the strategy of Garfield’s team. To each other, to parents of that team. Not only was their knowledge of the sport evident, their low opinion of the Lions’ strategy was evident, too.
As the two girls commented freely on “the coach’s strategy” while critiquing the team against which their little brothers played, one of them yelled, “The stupid coach keeps telling them to kick the ball out.” Loudly. Loudly enough that, sitting 8 or 10 people down the line from her, I heard it.
My heart started to thud, and I wondered if I should talk to her after the game. I wondered if I wanted to, if it were the right and appropriate thing to do.
In the meantime, I cheered my heart out for those 2nd and 3rd grade Lions. They lost, and I kept cheering for them as they came off the field. As I cheered, I’d also been formulating a rough draft of what I might say to the teenager who’d screamed out the “stupid coach” comment.
I considered how I might approach her and be honest while remaining calm. Standing my ground and holding her accountable while also being gentle and respectful. In other words, speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
I felt my hands shake a bit as I stuffed our chairs into their pouches. Many of the fans had left at this point. But not the 2 teen girls. I walked over to them, asking the brunette if I could speak to her for just a minute.
Me? she asked. I nodded, smiled, told her my name.
Then, anticipating she might accuse me of simply being upset that my son’s team had lost, I started out this way: I know every game has to have a winner and a loser. I’m so proud of our team and how they played, even though they lost. (Voice is quavering a bit, because it’s so important to me to get this right. Not to blow it by letting emotion take the reins.)
But…I continued…I heard you yell out “stupid coach.” Like most coaches, my husband volunteers his time to come out to practice, to attend the games. I’m not an expert on soccer, and you are free to have whatever opinions you want to have about our team and our coach. But I don’t think what you showed is the spirit we want to show to the players on the field. It’s taking it too far, in my opinion.
When I read Peaceful Parenting in January, I noted that the author recommends always endeavoring to speak in a calm voice, even when upset, because it helps everybody to remain calm. I put that into practice, very intentionally, in speaking with this girl at the field.
She stayed quiet, looking at me with an expression that broadcast “I’m embarrassed but trying very hard not to show it, because I must look cool at all times.” I’m sure I wore that look as a teen many times.
I finished with this: I know I said inappropriate things as a teenager, and I’m thankful for the times people called me out on it–because it taught me that words have consequences (I’d really planned ahead to use that phrase). I just think what you said today was taking it too far, in my opinion.
With eyebrow cocked, she said OK, and I smiled and nodded and returned to my family and our mountain of stuff to load in the van.
I felt victorious for the rest of the day. Hard things are worthy things, I read in a book called The Homeschooling Housewife. I didn’t shirk a hard task, and I showed restraint. I endeavored to confront (in a non-confrontational way) with grace. To speak the truth in love.