I’m accustomed to seeing coaches successfully communicate with Special Olympics athletes. I’ve run the Summer Games soccer venue for 12 years now, and I’ve witnessed the full array of responses from athletes, both to coaches and officials.
What I saw this past weekend, however, was one of the best pre-game speeches I’ve ever witnessed.
A 70+ year old coach sat down a group of competitors likely ranging from 25-59, and explained the tactics of the upcoming game.
Update: Illinois-Springfield Athletic Director Rodger Jehlicka submitted his resignation, effective August 15, 2011.
I didn’t have the heart to ask him what he was thinking, feeling. I just told him I loved him and wished him well.
My investment in the program is only six years old, but seeing Milton Tennant watch the final seconds wind off the clock in the final game of his 25th year as a soccer coach at the University of Illinois-Springfield, I can only imagine the memories that were flying through his head.
Milt is the third coach to retire from a school and team that was once a soccer juggernaut in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), winning national titles in 1986, 1988 and 1993. After Aydin Gonulsen and Joe Eck, he is the final remnant from that incredibly successful staff.
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The neighborhood wasn’t alluring in a touristy sort of way. Despite those including myself that flocked there in respect of one of the greatest Americans ever born, there were plenty of locals living a dream I would label a nightmare.
“Buy me a cheese sandwich, just one cheese sandwich,” she uttered.
I’m disappointed now that I didn’t hand her a couple dollars, instead choosing to stay part of our group and not get sidetracked by her request, or drawn into a conversation with a street vendor telling me why I should “support the neighborhood.”
The reality is he was right. I was in Atlanta to watch Illinois Wesleyan University’s men’s soccer team play in a tournament at Emory University. If you ever walk the campus of either university, you would understand that the word “privileged” isn’t a far stretch from the imagination.
I’m not suggesting the “silver spoon” variety. I know many of the parents that send their children to these schools are reliant upon financial aid, student loans and work study. I have been both a student and a parent reliant upon such assistance myself.
As I sat watching the World Cup draw last Friday, like many others I’d hoped the United States would draw South Africa, a team that is clearly the weakest of the seeded teams. But when the United States were promptly placed in the same group as England, the storyline was one that jumps off the screen.
I had recently written about the United States’ upset of England in the 1950 World Cup, still considered the greatest upset in the international competition of all time.
This all came about when I was fortunate enough recently to meet and dine with Frank Borghi, the goalie on that 1950 team who still lives in St. Louis.
So I called Frank, and he hadn’t yet heard the news.
“Oh, that’s exciting,” he told me. “I know England is very good.”
A year ago today, my son played his final soccer game. It was the culmination of years of taking him to practices and games, and it was hard to see it all end. Quite frankly, it had been such a big part of my life that I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it all ending. It was a significant life change.
This fall, I attended 37 soccer games (so far), including all but one of the local Illinois Wesleyan men’s team. It became an enjoyable substitution, and I found myself living and dying with their successes and failures. It’s not the same as watching my own son play (although one of the players was my son’s teammate all through club and high school), but at least it kept me engaged with the sport.
I wrote the following essay, ‘Reflections and a Thank You ‘ a year ago, the day after my son’s final game. It was therapeutic in a way, and a tribute to him. But it also contains a message that I hope parents of young soccer players will learn to embrace, and that is to appreciate the moment, and not get hung up on wins and losses at an early age. Look at your child’s personal development, both as a soccer player and a functioning member of society, and let he or she be the focal point of what’s good about the great sport of soccer. At a young age, individual skill development is so much more important than the outcome of a tournament match you won’t even recall five years from now. Unless your Little League trophies are still proudly displayed in your house (I sure hope not) instead of stored in a box in the attic or basement like mine (actually, I think most are likely in a landfill now), it should be easy to understand what I’m saying. We all want our children to experience the “thrill of victory” at some point during their formative years, but looking back, I’m more content at knowing my kids enjoyed their athletic experiences without dealing with self-esteem issues because their parents put too much emphasis on winning.
The road is a long one, yet we travel it way too quickly. Continue Reading