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Coaching Lads Is Like Minding Toddlers

June 26, 1996|MIKE PENNER

Billy, my goalie, reluctantly pulls on his teal long-sleeved shirt but refuses to wear the gloves. The gloves are too uncomfortable, he says, and besides, he'd rather play midfield.

Tony, my right midfielder, informs me that he does not play this position. "If I do, it messes up my game," he tells me. He says he plays right forward and right forward only. Not left forward-that messes up his game, too. Right forward only.

Scott, my left midfielder, is sitting this one out and is thinking about quitting because he doesn't like the referees in this league.

John, my sweeper, isn't speaking to Tino, my striker.

Kevin, my stopper, doesn't want to play on the same team with Paul, my central midfielder, because Paul yelled at him last week.

Paul, my right fullback, forgot to bring his jersey, so he has to borrow Martin's, which will leave Martin, my left fullback, jerseyless unless he can borrow one from somebody else.

Just another day in the life of a weekend soccer coach.

In the Long Beach men's 30-and-over division.

Actually, coach is far too lofty a job description for what I do. I collect the registration fees (or at least make the attempt; extracting $4 a game from well salaried 32-year-olds and kidney removal surgery-very similar in many respects), attend the league meetings, make the phone calls, mail. out the schedules, order the jerseys, make out the lineup, bring the water, send in the substitutes and occasionally play lumbering central defender.

Besides, there are too many coaches on this team already. Three of my players are or have been paid soccer coaches, which is one of the roots of our problems.

Another: too many sportswriters. Generally, sportswriters do not make very good rec-league soccer players because a) they generally can't play; b) are convinced they can; and c) know everything about anything, just take a minute or 15 and ask one.

One of my midfielders is a soccer writer, extremely fluent in the nuances of the game, possessed of an almost Zen-like mild nature away from the field-a pleasant lad to be around, really-who leads our team in stark-raving red-card ejections. His Double is standards. He knows the rule book better than the referees and linesmen who work our games and simply loses it when an improper throw-in by the opposition goes unwhistled.

"I only expect them to be perfect," he says of the officiating crews and, unhappily for us, he is only half-joking.

Scott was ejected from a recent game while standing on the sideline, for using language we didn't realize he knew when we formed this team. He and a lineswoman Scott deemed unworthy were bickering back and forth when, finally, the referee halted play and ordered me off the field ('Captain blue!'-words that make the blood go cold) to attempt to intervene.

By the time I reached the sideline, Scott was calling the lineswoman a popular colloquialism that rhymes with "witch."

The referee brandished a yellow card.

Scott "Make that a bleeping [rhymes-with-witch].'Red card.

Scott had just added to his team lead.

This was the same game we combined with our bitter rivals, the Islanders, to amass 11 yellow cards. That's a little high for us. We lost, 6-4, after a tense, defensive 4-4 stalemate was broken on a 45-yard chip over our backpedaling goalkeeper's outstretched left- arm. It happens.

Men's over-30 rec league soccer is a different animal. Unlike your neighborhood AYSO league, you see many cellular phones and knee braces on the sidelines. Mineral Ice, a fluorescent blue therapeutical gel that is rubbed on aching (read: aging) muscles, is de riguer-- before every game, you can-see half our lineup sliming up. Players discuss and compare knee ligament surgeries. One of our strikers has torn ACLs in both knees and now duct-tapes Gigantor-like metal braces to his legs before every game. The guys on the team have given him a nickname. "AC Ligamente," of course.

Hamstring pulls can wipe out an over-30 team. So can a shortage of baby sitters. And, occasional run-ins with the Highway Patrol. One week, we had three starters out with hamstrings, another because he couldn't find a baby sitter for his 5-year-old daughter and another, our playmaking midfielder, because he was-how shall I say?-detained by police after being pulled over while driving with a suspended license.

We lost, 8-nil.

Ground transportation is crucial for an over-30 team. Rec league rule No. 1:- The better the player, the more frequent the car problems. Rec league rule No. 2: Time of player arrivals are in inverse correlation to playing ability.

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