My husband Craig was a collegiate soccer goalie at Michigan State University. As a result, he tends to coach our son Gabriel’s u11 soccer team with the same intensity and drive that it takes to become a Big Ten athlete. He means well, and wants his players to meet their full potential. He believes winning is just as important as having fun. Craig is bothered by a loss, and expects his players to be too.
Because he takes the game so seriously, at times he acts a little crazy. He often screams from the sidelines when a player is in need of encouragement or reprimanding. He jumps and cheers when the team does something worth celebrating. He falls to his knees in dramatic disappointment when they make a crucial mistake.
He also talks to his young players like they are adults. I often cringe at the things that come out of his mouth.
For example, during one team huddle last season the boys started to ask several off-topic questions. Craig was eager to start practice, but curious hands kept rising. Finally, Craig lost his patience. “If you are going to ask a question, make sure it’s not stupid. Because if it’s stupid, you’re giving me 50 push-ups!” he announced.
All hands dropped, except for one optimistically brave boy.
“Justin, you still have a question?” Craig couldn’t believe it.
“Yes,” Justin responded, with an innocent smile.
“Are you sure you want to ask it?” Craig dared threateningly.
Justin cocked his head to one side and thought for a second. “Never mind,” he said, and lowered his hand and his head at the same.
“Okay then! Let’s play soccer!” Craig shouted with enthusiasm.
I about died when Craig shared this story with me later that evening. Especially when I realized he genuinely thought it was funny. Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised, because I correct his verbal approach with our kids on a regular basis. He doesn’t mean to sound like an idiot, he just struggles to verbally relate with young children.
“Craig! You can’t say things like that to kids!” I scolded him.
“Why not? Justin realized it was a stupid question,” Craig retorted with certainty.
“Or it wasn’t stupid, but he was scared to ask you,” I countered.
“Oh,” Craig said, stumped. “Or that…oops!” Yeah. Oops.
Fast forward to this season – new try-outs, new kids, new team selection.
After the first practice, I asked Gabe about the new players. “There’s a boy named Luke, Messy…” he began to list their names.
“Messy?” I interrupted, wondering if I’d heard him correctly.
“Yeah, Messy,” he answered.
“Is that his real name?” I asked.
“No, it’s his nickname. Daddy gave it to him,” Gabe explained.
Oh God. Here we go, I thought. “Why does he call him Messy?” I asked, scared of the answer.
“Because he wore a messy shirt to practice, so Daddy just called him that,” Gabe shrugged his shoulders.
“Gabe, you can’t call him Messy,” I told him. “That’s not a nice nickname.”
“Why, Mommy?” he asked innocently.
I couldn’t believe he didn’t already know. “Gabe, what if it was your first night at practice and your shirt happened to be a messy one. How would you feel if people called you that just because of one shirt?” I offered him empathetic perspective.
“Ooookay,” he said with a strange look, as if to suggest I was overreacting.
I took a deep breath. My baby was turning into a boy. A boy who saw nothing wrong with making fun of a friend just to get a laugh. A boy who was learning from the ignorant example set by his coach-of-a-father.
Later that evening, I had the same conversation with Craig. I told him I thought it was unfair of him to label a boy with a nickname he may not appreciate – especially on the first night of practice.
“Kristin, it’s not a big deal,” he said.
“Well, I think it is. You’re the coach. You should be setting positive examples of leadership,” I lectured. “At the very least, you should ask this little boy if he even likes the nickname ‘Messy.'”
“Ooookay,” Craig said, looking at me as though I was crazy.
“Please?” I asked. “I really think his parents would appreciate the respect.”
“I said O.K. Kristin!” he ended the conversation.
After tucking the kids in last night after practice, Craig and I sat on the couch.
“How was practice?” I asked.
“Fine,” he answered. “And by the way, I asked Messy if he liked his nickname.”
“You did?” I asked, relieved. “What did he say?”
“He said he loved it, and he wants me to keep calling him Messy,” Craig said in I-told-you-so fashion.
“He did?” I asked, surprised. “Well, I guess if he likes it then it’s okay. But at least you asked,” I said.
“Kristin,” Craig addressed me with confusion. “You are making way too big of a deal out of this! I don’t understand why you thought it was an issue in the first place!” he challenged me.
“Because it was mean to make fun of him, especially when he didn’t know anybody!” I defended Messy.
“What?! How was it mean?” Craig demanded to know.
I was disgusted I had to explain it to him. So freaking typical. “Craig! How would you feel if your kid went to his very first travel soccer practice and the coach and the kids made fun of him just because he spilled something on his shirt?” I tried my hardest to sound convincing.
He looked at me like I was on drugs. “Kristin! He was wearing a messy jersey! M-E-S-S-I ! He’s one of the best soccer players in the world!” Craig burst into hysterics.
“What?!” I was mortified. “I thought you were making fun of the poor kid cuz he had ketchup on his shirt!” I laughed along with him. I couldn’t deny that I had made a condescending fool of myself.
“No! Messi is a compliment – not an insult!” he assured me, as he rolled off the couch doubled over on all fours in laughter.
“Oh God,” I said. “That was really bad,” I admitted with embarrassment. “Our communication skills are severely lacking,” I said.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Craig objected. “This one is on you!”
“Alright,” I conceded, while shaking my head in defeat. “At least it’s blog-able,” I reasoned with regret.
“That it is!” Craig agreed whole-heartedly. My ignorance was his bliss.