By Dan Woog
I coached my first youth soccer team in 1975. For the first decade or so, I handled a couple of teams each spring. Then I came to my senses -- I mean, I tapered off -- to one. In the first falls there were junior high squads; then came high school freshmen, junior varsity and, now, varsity teams. That’s probably 1,000 different players. But I feel like I’ve worked with only a few.
That’s because the same boys show up again and again. Well, not the same ones -- they’d be too old, and even worse they would know all my tricks -- but the same types. Not every team has every one of the same kinds of players, of course, but enough do that I can make some generalizations. For example, nearly every team contains:
The Boy With Total Recall. He is the one who, when I mention a particular opponent -- Redding, say -- will erupt in a torrent of information. “Blue-and-gold uniforms. The first time we played them was up there, the field with the Port-a-Potty all the way in the woods. We won 3-1. Grant, Greer and Hulliman scored. Hulliman’s was a PK. Way left -- it hit the post and caromed in. Could have gone either way. Dan, you were so pissed he went left, because he usually goes right. You told him if he couldn’t be consistent with his penalties, you’d find someone else who was. Great burger joint on the way home. The second time we played them …” The scariest thing about The Boy With Total Recall is that he grows up to become The Man With Total Recall.
The Mathematician. The instant a match ends, The Mathematician can tell you what the result means. This talent is particularly valuable at tournaments, when he turns from his spot on the bench (The Mathematician is seldom The Starter), and says, “Dan, we don’t need to score any more, but we have to keep our goals-against to finish first in our group. But, if we let up another goal, then we should probably let up three, because that would place us third overall, not second, and that would mean we would get to play Hamilton in the next round, and they’re easier than Hicksville.” Hearing a roar from the field behind us, he learns that Hamilton is at that very moment pulling off an upset. The Mathematician recalculates instantly, like an Excel spreadsheet in hyperdrive.
The Little Guy. Everyone has always told him he’s too small to play; having had dozens of these players, I’m amazed at everyone’s stupidity. The Little Guy is tougher than boys three times his size. He has blazing speed, boundless energy, great touch and no fear whatsoever. He has studied the game -- often from the bench, because previous coaches favored bigger players over him -- and his passion for soccer is boundless. His teammates look down at him physically, but up to him emotionally. No matter what his name is, he is always called Little Guy.
The Boy Who Does Things Differently. There are many variations of this archetype: the kid who rides a unicycle to practice when everyone else is chauffeured by mommy; the one who listens to classical music while the rest are into hip-hop; the soccer player who hangs out only with football players. But all Boys Who Do Things Differently are integral parts of their squads. Their teammates may not understand them, and they may be the center of curiosity, comments and jokes, but when the whistle blows they are as much a member of the team as anyone. And for some reason, they are the ones who grow up to have the strongest, most positive feelings for the time they spent playing soccer.
The Loner. A sadder version of The Boy Who Does Things Differently, The Loner is a soccer player who off the field hangs out with no one. He has no group of friends, either in the team or outside. As an adult who remembers how cruel teenagers can be, I try to make sure The Loner is included in group activities. But as an adult too, I know my ability to help him fit in is limited. Some loners, as they grew older, gain confidence and become comfortable in their own skin; others never do. The saddest loner I recall was the boy whose mother drove him to every game, because (I found out later) he was certain no one else would want him in their car. I never knew.
The Foreigner. I don’t think I’ve ever had a team without one boy from another country. Their homelands vary -- Holland, Germany, Brazil, Norway, Israel and India leap to mind -- but the acceptance process seldom does. Initially wary at first, the youngsters open their arms the moment they see the newcomer can help. Their joking stereotypes -- “Where are your wooden shoes?” “Does your mom drive a ‘Fjord’?” “Have you ever headed a ball wearing a turban?” -- help bring the new boy into the fold. Eager to fit in, the foreigner quickly becomes more American than the Americans. He wears a Duke baseball cap backward, picks up the slang of the day, and forgets his soccer shoes at home. Is this a great country or what?
Look for Part 2 of "Archetypes" on Tuesday.
Excerpted from “We Kick Balls: True Stories From The Youth Soccer Wars.” By Dan Woog 198 pages, 2012. Paperback $12.95; Kindle $9.95; E-Book $9.99.)