September 18, 2007
Why do children loved to swim but hate to bathe? Why does reading become a much higher priority as bedtime approaches? Why does my van smell so bad after carrying little Mystics around? Why do I laugh so hard on the soccer field?
You'd laugh too if you had overheard the following conversation on the pitch this week. . .
This is Elvis Takow. Elvis trains Erin's Mystic '97 soccer team. It is only one of his many talents. He is also a coach/trainer for the Texas A&M women's team (ranked #5 in the nation) and a Ph.D. student in the Rangeland, Ecology, and Management Department, specializing in computer mapping of forests and other naturally occurring resources.
What else do you need to know about Elvis? Those of you my age may remember Jan-Michael Vincent in his role of Nanu in Disney's The World's Greatest Athlete. For those who can't recall that charming performance (when I googled Jan-Michael Vincent, his mini-bio began "Virile, handsome and square-jawed youthful star. . ."), just picture a really fit thirty-year-old man who looks like he has tucked softballs in his calves. That's Elvis. Having Elvis back in our lives is deja vu. He trained Davis during his first year of competitive soccer, which is coincidentally, the year Erin started knocking a ball around on the sideline at Davis's games (fall 1998).
Despite what the lovely smile on his face (above) may lead you to believe, Elvis is a serious man, with a serious purpose: training young athletes to become good soccer players. The best adjective to describe his sessions? Not fun. Not exciting. Not jolly, merry, nor pleasant. Grueling comes to mind. Maybe harsh. Certainly no-nonsense.
At the end of practice last week, Elvis gathered the players around him and ask them if they had had fun. He didn't get much eye contact and certainly no agreement. He went on to say, "I know that sometimes practice is hard. I make you practice this way so that you can get better. You may not like me very much when I make you work so much. You may even hate me. When I was young, like you, many times I hated my coach. But you know what? Now I like him. Alot. I really appreciate that he made me work."
The girls, all gathered round him in a knot, didn't say anything.
I'm thinking, "He nailed it. At this point they really do hate him. Maybe they are considering that they could like him . . .some day."
I look around at the group. Erin is across from me. She's looking especially thoughtful, but also skeptical. She raises her hand. Elvis notices and calls on her. She say, "You mean, your coach is still alive?"
Elvis gropes to retain the gravity of the moment, but then cracks up. Suddenly Elvis, the other coach Lisa, and I are all falling over with laughter, and the girls don't really know what's so funny. Finally, Elvis said, "How old do you think I am?"
Erin looked a little sheepish, but explained, "I don't really know, but Davis is in college and you were his coach when he was a little kid, so I figured your coach must be getting on up there if he was alive at all."
Another priceless moment came at the game on Saturday. No one can enter the field as a substitute until the ref notices them and signals them on. Typically, Lisa calls from the sideline in a steady cadence when she wants to sub, "REF, SUB. . .REF, SUB. . .REF, SEB" until the ref signals that its okay. This is typically quite effective. Saturday, the ref appeared to hear the other coach's signal for a substitute almost immediately every time, but kept overlooking Lisa's more effective (in my opinion) call. At some point, he looked up, saw a Mystic player standing ready to sub and finally noticed Lisa's "REF, SUB. . .REF, SUB. . .REF, SEB." He took a step towards Lisa and said, "Sorry, coach, you sound just like my wife. I must be tuning you out." Then he turned, jogged up the field, and re-started the game. After that, we lowered our voices as deeply as we could to call for the subs and had no problem getting his attention.
By the way, Erin's team took their first game 5-2 and lost a squeaker on Sunday 2-1. Next week we have the blessing of a home game with an afternoon start. No early morning drives into Houston. No excuse to miss church.