I spend a lot of my time during spring and fall on the soccer field. Coaching is one of the best parts of my personal life — it’s one of the ways I give back to the athletic and scholastic community that raised me, and it’s one of the places I regain energy. There’s nothing like a group of giggling 8-year-olds to remind you that you should work hard, but in between life is supposed to be fun! Below are some of the tools I use to stay organized and keep the kids interested in the off-season.
Off-season footwork challenge: Even if you have kids who are playing two seasons or on select teams, fall season often has a bit of a re-learning curve. Use this template to help kids get touches on the ball. I keep a stockpile of these emoji keychains handy for quick rewards.
Coach Cash: This can be really helpful with younger groups. Create your own coach cash and award them for acts of awesomeness, whether that’s a goal, a shot, great sportsmanship, winners of a drill, or doing something personally important to that player (like staying in position for a whole game when they struggle to do so!). To go one step further, give each parent $5 in coach cash and ask them to award them to players throughout the season. When you introduce the concept of coach cash to your team, provide each of them with a snack-size or sandwich-size Ziploc bag with each team member’s name. This is their “wallet” where they can store their cash throughout the season.
Download the Coach Cash Template here. To customize the template, open it in PowerPoint. Click Insert>Picture>Picture from File and insert a photo of yourself. Resize it to fit over the dollar bill’s image of George Washington. Click on the photo and click Crop>Crop to Shape. Select the oval and crop your photo into the same oval shape of the dollar bill photo. Click Picture Format>Color and select a green that matches the dollar bill. This doesn’t need to be exact, just enough to blend! Your kids won’t care. Print, cut, hand ’em out! At the end of the season, have the kids trade in their cash for special prizes.
Coach’s Gametime Lineup: This helps me keep track of the important things that occur during a game without carrying a clipboard or looking like I’m on the phone. It allows me to list my starting lineup and subs, my warm-up, notes for pre-game huddle, and then the positives, negatives, shots/goals, and recipients of Coach Cash for each half. Click here to download the gametime lineup.
To use the gametime lineup, fold in half on the dotted line. This separates your first half (1H) from your second half (2H). Then fold in half again along the bold solid line. You now have a palm-sized paper with space for your lineup on one side and notes for each half on the other.
My life changed significantly just over one year ago. We don’t need to talk about it much here. But one of the significant changes is that I went from a fairly standard office environment to working outside and working with my hands.
Now — when my business consulting docket is not crammed full, which it sometimes is — I spend hours sweeping. Or building. Or painting. Or patching leaks. Or stacking firewood.
And oh, how I love that firewood. The feeling you get after two hours of stacking firewood, two hours of methodical, simple, patterned movement, is meditative. It’s not blissful. It’s not ethereal.
And when the podcast fades and the basement light is just as dim as when I started, when I haven’t had any obligation beyond fitting together this puzzle of a heat source, when one full spot is now empty and one empty spot is now full, my brain has unearthed stories, ideas, and images I didn’t even remember were buried in my synapses.
I am a creative. In my truest moments, I am a creative being. I crave freedom. I inhale inspiration. I gorge on imagination at a cellular level.
I live in a world of date blocks and Google reminders and gymnastics lessons that preface soccer practice. My constant internal interrogative is, “Wait, what do we have next?”
Accomplishment consists of a day survived in tact. A day where we’ve all connected our dots and didn’t run out of ink. It is not a creative world.
Manual labor asks only for labor and offers a tangible product. Spend time stacking firewood and eventually I have a stack of firewood. Spend some time sweeping a barn floor, eventually I have a clean barn floor. Get out the shovel and work, square foot by square foot, clearing the fallen snow… look at that, my driveway is open. The winter air cleansed my lungs. My nose is pink. My muscle fibers are already healing, slightly stronger than before. My tangible product, my end result, walks hand-in-hand with the moments I spent caring for my family, caring for my property, being with myself and with my task.
In those moments, my brain listens. It hears the repetition. It observes that I don’t need it to engage, so it takes a walk. It gets started on its own hard work. It shovels. It sweeps. It digs. It stacks. It builds. It creates. When it has something, it taps on the inside of my cranium and shows me what it’s been up to.
These are the moments of my best ideas, ideas that will require even more work and even more labor, but they are moments of crystalline accomplishment married to enthusiastic potential.
And today, when I spend a little too much time working in front of the computer, I start to stare longingly at the leaves to be raked, the space between the barn floor beams that need a Shop Vac, that empty space in the horse barn asking for a shelf… and I get to work.
When I was a child, every Christmas, birthday, and Easter list included “A Pony” and “My own phone in MY room.” Neither was ever realized, but I put a decided amount of thought into where my pony would live, how my parents could very easily just put up a fence to create a corral… if they really loved me.
My dad is the animal parent. Both grew up with dogs, but my dad is very much the secretly sensitive, empathetic one who would never pass up the opportunity to scratch or coo at a fuzzy pet.
As we got a little older, my youngest brother and I talked about owning a dog rescue as adults. When our family dog, Happy, was diagnosed with brain cancer, my mom made sure we took him to a local lake for one final day of love, belly rubs, and family time. We all went in to the vet’s office with him for five minutes I will never forget.
Later, my brother was helping at the Humane Society and realized that one of the dogs he was walking was scheduled to be euthanized. Knowing my mom would not give the parental consent he needed to adopt the dog, he called me. My voice passed a perfunctory phone call from the rescue coordinator, and nearly 18 years later Anton remains a legend in our community.
Every moment of my adulthood has included at least one dog, sometimes two or three, and often a cat, a bird, or a fish. Today I own a 10-acre farm littered with two dogs, four barn cats, a goldfish, five ducks, nine chickens, a mini horse, a donkey (a DONKEY!), and four goats. It is not a functional farm. Our chickens lay eggs. The other animals are all rescues. They take time. They take energy. They take tolerance. They take patience. They do not earn their keep… but the returns in hugs, laughs, and love are so worthwhile.
But those bright moments are brighter because we also experience the dim. We carry these animals through life to death, just as my parents did with our family dog, Happy.
As a 30-ish mom to two young girls who just purchased a decaying farm, I’d forgotten what it was like to be that pony-desperate little girl. My dogs, the animals who were once the center of my home, had become another chore. On a good day they made me crazy. On a bad day they made me furious. But my daughters loved them, and I loved them in my quiet moments, and I loved the responsibility and empathy they built in my kids. And then came Gozer.
Gozer, the sweet, fat, senior boxer we found at the local Animal Rescue League. We talked about Gozer’s age, that he may not be with us too long. My daughters told me they understood, they wanted to take care of him and give him a home, that he deserved it at his age. So we brought home the dog who reminded me why I loved dogs. He followed my four-year-old everywhere, a quintessential vision of contrasts. He laid his head on our laps. He snuffled and snorted and put up with the bow ties I tied around his neck. He snoozed and snored and ate like a vacuum. He loved us. We loved him. And he began to limp.
His limp became more pronounced, and it became clearer that he was in pain. He’d twisted his ankle, we thought. We’ll take him to the vet and get some painkillers so he can recover. Instead he got an X-ray and a diagnosis of aggressive bone cancer. Within 48 hours he was growling and biting, in a pain so deep he couldn’t recognize us any longer, and we took him in the middle of the night to help him leave the fog of that pain. We said good-bye as a family, and I stayed behind, the lesson my parents taught me ringing in my head as I held his. He needed me.
We needed him.
We took on his fog after he died, spending the next day remembering, going to Chuck E. Cheese (a place this mom never goes), and designating it Gozer Day, a day we would celebrate annually. We built a Little Free Library in his honor, painted it in the colors of the peacock collar he wore, and used it as an outlet for all of the undirected love we still had.
Gozer left us early. We had so much love left to give. A few months later, we found a photo of Valentine online. This big, burly, brindle mastiff weighed only 75 pounds. He’d been starved and malnourished, and we were determined to nurse him back. He was a part-time job unto himself. He hated being crated in any way, and our house was one big crate in his brain. He loved our family but hated our home. He loved to run and hated to be lost. He escaped routinely — including the first night he was home — and would run full-speed for miles, invariably turning up at the home of some other large breed owner before coming home to us, ready to snuggle and eat. He tested positive for latent heartworms and spent quite a bit of time and money in the vet’s office. He slobbered non-stop. He was aggressive with any unannounced guests (because mastiffs are very protective).
We needed him. He took such good care of our family. He was protective, he was loving, he was snuggly. After a surgical procedure, Valentine didn’t leave my side for days.
One night after an amazing day, Valentine and our new rescue, Aurora, were playing with a ball with our entire family sitting nearby. Valentine tipped his head backward to chew the ball. He tipped his head forward and it didn’t come out. It was stuck and he was choking. He began to run, clearly frightened, and lost control of his bladder and bowels. I tried to get the ball out using the canine Heimlich. I tried to get the ball out using my hand, not realizing until that night that Valentine was involuntarily clamping down on my wrist every time.
The ball didn’t come out. Two vets were unable to save him without anesthesia and, after the stress of the situation, his heart could not handle the anesthesia needed to save him. He died.
The tendons in my wrist were severed, I had a hematoma in my forearm, and I was given antibiotics for the puncture wounds. The heartbreak and depression stayed for weeks.
Around the same time, I was growing our farm and got a call from a woman who could not afford to keep her mini horse and two pygmy goats. We adopted them, and this older, surly mini-stallion with a history of thyroid issues worked his way into our hearts. Winston was with us for nine months. On Easter night, after a month of behaving oddly, he began an eight-hour death. I held him as snow began to fall and the vet was preparing his last injection, told him we loved him and thanked him for loving my girls, and he took his last breath and died.
Another one was lost.
This is the hardest part. We take these risks. We make ourselves vulnerable. We open our hearts and our home and our barns to give them a better life. We know it’s right, and when these sweet, crazy beasts pass away, we tell each other that we’re taking all of that love and giving it to the other animals we have.
But damn, at 3 am when the snow is falling gently, it is so hard. When you realize he needed you there to hold him, to speak with him, to pet him and let him go on his own terms, it is so hard. When you realize he was in so much pain he couldn’t see anything else, it is so hard. And when you realize yours is the other heartbeat he trusted, it is so, so hard.
When you’ve had them, one after another after another and you just love them so deeply and need them so badly, it is so hard.
And so, last summer, my friend Jack helped me. Jack is 10 years old, and Jack has asked me questions about those sweet loves I have. He listens to my stories. He doesn’t mind my tears. He touches the mold of Gozer’s paw gently. When I decided that Valentine, Gozer, Winston, and all those who came before them needed a permanent place on our farm, I knew that I needed Jack.
We chose an eight-foot cherry tree. It is domed on top, a bit taller than me but not too tall. It will flower in the spring. It will shade my daughters. Its bark has already been wetted down with some tears. Jack and I chose well. But it is still so hard.