An Open Letter To Team Portugal

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Note: At the time of this writing, Sweden is the only thing standing between Team Portugal and a trip to the 2014 World Cup in their old South American stomping ground.
This letter is to a different — similarly spirited, if less Iberian — Team Portugal: the seven preschoolers we have had the privilege of coaching in South Oakland County Soccer.

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Dear Team Portugal:

We love to watch you play. Your clumsiness is elegant. Though your shins are guarded, you sway like the same blades of uncut grass you cannot resist plucking whenever we are trying to explain which goal is “our goal.”  Your pace is poetic. When you aren’t distracted by a DTW-bound airplane or foil gum wrapper, you embody the words of the immortal Pele: “Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.” Your enthusiasm, in particular, for drinking water from squeeze bottles gives us hope for the hydration of an entire generation.

We love to watch you play. And we’re not just saying that because Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC said to say that.  Over the past 30 years, athletes have told them with striking frequency that those are the six words that made them feel great and amplified their joy during and after a game.

And, distinguished members of Team Portugal, we hope you love riding home with us after the game. Because that ride home is cited more than anything else as young athletes’ worst memories of playing sports. A disproportionate number of the 75 percent of kids who stop playing organized sports by age 13 owe early retirement to insufferable parents and their post-game analysis.

Don’t worry, Jake and Judah, your Coach Dads are not, as you may suspect from their presence on the field of play, demonstrating Proactive’s Sign No. 5 That You’re a Nightmare Sports Parent (“Living your own athletic dream through your child”).

I have coached middle school boys and high school girls, and — fearful of both for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s encountered either — rarely set foot on the field.  If we did not remain on the field during your games, it is highly unlikely any of you would.

Team Portugal, you can play soccer throughout your formative years — as short-shorts-wearing adults, even — and we will not think you are communists. Author David Eggers theorizes that the way kids drop soccer as quickly as they start “is attributable, in part, to the fact that people of influence in America long believed that soccer was the chosen sport of communists.”

Well, we’ve torn down that wall as passionately as you tear the straw from your Strawberry Kiwi Capri Sun.

And if, as Eggers suggests, relying on one’s feet seems un-American, then you, Team Portugal, have nothing to fear, as you routinely find it appropriate to use your hands, even though games in your age bracket are played without goalies. And no one can accuse you of flopping, (Player) Ben, when you spontaneously decide to lie down on the grass until (Coach) Ben comes over to lift you, dangling legs and all, like a not-yet-real-boy Pinocchio.

You are all winners, Team Portugal, even though winning doesn’t matter or whatever. In spite of your difficulty walking in a straight line to high five the opposing team — not that we really oppose them — you embody whatever the gender neutral word for sportsmanship is.

Two pieces of advice should you someday have the opportunity to coach your own kids. First, do not forget the orange sections; FIFA will not recognize the game as having been played without sticky sections of oranges eaten by players and Coach Dads. Second, please marry someone who will be nice to your mother. 

Futebol para a vida!

Coach Ben and Coach Steve

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