The Mighty Ducks

We’re a couple weeks into the season and won our first game, 4-1. What a rush. I am so incredibly pumped. Every day I come home from practice and Steve asks me how it went. I launch into it, talking his ear off about the girls, my struggles, little victories, and everything else in between. I’m already starting to see little improvements with a lot of the players, and that feels so good. We have a long way to go, but I feel so lucky to be coaching this team.

The more the season goes on, the more coaching feels like a part of my being. It feels right. I agonize over what to teach them at practice and how to make practice run smoothly. I take forever to figure out which position each player should be playing and what makes the best fit for us to be successful as a whole. Sometimes, it’s too much. Just a touch too much OCD and trying to plan every single move. Because it doesn’t always go to plan. In fact, it mostly never goes to plan.

Today is our second game. The weather is not looking good. It’s raining when I wake up in the morning, which is fine, but it says it’s supposed to thunderstorm all afternoon and evening. Rain is fine to play in. Thunderstorms are not. Terry sends out a message to all us coaches that the games are on. If you see lightning, call it on site. Otherwise, we are good to play.

Steve joins me for the game. (He came to the first game, too, and since we won, the girls have decided he’s good luck and should be at every game. One of my junior captains, Berkley, even told Steve that he should sit on our side by the bench during games.) He’s such a great sport. Even in the pouring rain, he wants to come out and support.

We arrive 15 minutes early. No one is out on the fields. It’s dark and pouring. People sit in their cars, deciding when and if they should bother getting out. I told the girls to be here at 3:30, one hour before game time, so at 3:30, I get out of the car.

As I’m walking to the field, my phone rings. It’s Terry. She’s calling to let me know that the team we’re playing – Hough High School – can’t make it because they’re stuck in really bad traffic and don’t know when they can get here. I have no idea how far any of these schools are from us, but I’m surprised. If anything is going to stop this game, I thought it would be the weather.

Terry puts us on a three-way call with the other coach. By this time, my team has started to gather around me. I don’t want to have a win because of a forfeit, but you better believe I will take a win because of a forfeit. My girls are here. They’re ready. But, of course, yes, if we can reschedule, let’s do that.

The other coach hangs up, and Terry lets me know that if we want to stay and use the field to practice, we’re more than welcome to. I almost laugh. Yea, right, like my girls are going to want to stay and play in the rain when there’s not even a game.

When I hang up the phone, I let the girls know the situation. One of my sophomores, Clare, isn’t ready to leave. “Can we just hit around, since we’re here?”

Ummm, yes. Yes, you can. You want to stay and play, even though we have no one to play against. Yes, yes, yes, we can stay and hit around. I’m floored. It’s not that I thought my team didn’t love field hockey. It’s just that, given the circumstances, I thought that everyone would want to go home. But they don’t.

We walk out to the field with a bucket of balls, and the girls mess around, shooting at the cage. I can hear them talking about reverse chips and lifts and I can’t help but tell them, how about you work on your forward drives first? You know, the ones you actually use in the games, all the time? I try to remind myself that they are out here of their own free will, and to just let them have fun. But I really want to teach them the basics, always. Get good at that first. And then, when you’re good at the basics, get great at the basics. And then, way down the line, fine, work on stupid reverse chips. I get it, they’re fun. They look cool when you do them well. But scoring and winning is way better than one cool hit.

Another team has been here for about the same amount of time as us. The coaches are hanging out under a gazebo while the players warm up. I jog over to the coach – Sarah – who I’ve coached with previously at camps. I suggest that if their opponent doesn’t show up, we scrimmage each other. I start to walk back over to my team, but they’re all heading off the field, towards me.

Apparently, someone yelled at them to get off the field. I’m sorry, what? Who? Where? A couple of referees in yellow jerseys. Sarah jogs over to speak to them. They are soccer referees, officiating the game on the next field over, and they heard thunder. Fortunately, we don’t have to get off the field for thunder – only lightning – and anyway, they have no business telling us what to do.

Another team starts to slowly trickle in – the opponent for Sarah’s team. OK, that’s it. Time to make moves. All my girls are here. No one has tried to leave, and there has been no lightning. I start splitting them up into two groups. I told all of them to bring their practice pinnies, so when I tell some of them to “go white” and at least five of them don’t have their pinnies, I’m pissed.

I give them some grief about it, but I have to let it go. Fine. Who doesn’t have a pinny? OK, you’re all in black. I continue to divide up the girls until I have two teams. We are going to scrimmage full field with each other, 9v9. If anyone needs a sub, Steve will come in for you (I know he’d love to play).

We jog out to the field. God it feels good to be on a real turf field, with real goal cages, and field hockey lines. It’s a rainy dream. I blow the whistle, and it’s on.

I don’t even realize that as we’re playing, both of the other teams leave. Why? I have no idea. And I don’t care. I’m immersed in the scrimmage in front of me. Also, a small crowd has started to form. I assume my players’ parents – I’ve met some of them but not all. We’ve got a real game going here!

Yesterday’s practice was a bumpy one. I was on my own, and had been very excited about working on corners. But, as it sometimes go, things did not go to plan, and everything I was hoping for, was not what I was getting. I was a little disheartened coming into this game today. But now, watching the girls play, I can see so much individual improvement, so much more aggressiveness and confidence that I haven’t yet seen in some players, and most importantly, a real sense of team. They’re really playing together, or at least, trying to. They’re on their way.

After about 20 minutes, I call them in. It’s a downpour, and I’m wondering if we should leave or stay. I put it to the girls. It’s up to you guys. Do you want to go for a little longer or be done? It’s an overwhelming response of, ‘Let’s keep playing.’

So we do.

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