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THE GUY CHRONICLES

This Coach Is No Match for Giggling Soccer Team

October 11, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

So I show up at the field looking like soccer's Santa Claus--with a bag full of toys, balls mostly. Me, a guy with freckled legs and Hitler's hairline carrying this giant bag of soccer balls, limping a little. As coaches go, I'm considered fairly attractive.

"OK, girls, over here," I say and limp/lead the team to the warmup area.

Saturday is still wet behind the ears, but here we are, out on this dew-kissed field getting our shoes and socks soaked--all in the name of youth soccer. If there's a better reason, please let me know.

"Did you bring doughnuts?" one of the players asks.

"I brought coffee and cigars," I say.

"I'll take some coffee," one of them says.

"I'll take some coffee, too," says another.

They are always asking for food. Or drinks. Or money. I am not so much their coach as I am their executive producer, responsible for everything in their little lives, responsible for their happiness, their well-being, their sense of self. I do my best, but there is only so much an executive producer can do.

"Where are we going for lunch today, coach?" one of the players says.

"We're not going for lunch," I say.

"Dinner? You're buying dinner?" she asks.

This is how they've gotten now that they're 8 or 9. Like little wise guys. Nothing they say is ever serious. Everything other people say provokes laughter, intended or not.

I can't take any credit for this development. This is just how they behave. Guess we just got lucky.

"Coach is buying dinner!" yells the little red-haired girl, and everyone cheers.

We have been meeting like this since August, the team in the little green and yellow uniforms that remind me of the Green Bay Packers.

"Hey, Packers!" I told my assistant coach, Gary, when he delivered the uniforms.

"I thought they were blue," said coach Gary.

Green. Blue. Doesn't matter. We're the mighty Lightning Bolts. We play to win. Coach Gary and I established that at our first meeting with the girls, way back when.

"I just want to say," I told the team, "that there's a new sheriff in town."

"Where?" asked one of the girls.

"Right here," I said.

"Where?" several others asked, now thoroughly confused.

"Never mind," I said.

As coaches go, I'm considered fairly funny.

So we skipped the pep talk and went right to drills, where we discovered that:

* Four girls had never played soccer before.

* Three girls had played a little soccer but saw the game mostly as a social opportunity.

* Five girls despised soccer but had to come because their mothers made them.

As first practices go, I thought it went very well.

"We stink," said the little girl as we climbed into the car afterward.

"It's too early to tell," I said.

"No, Dad, we really stink," she said.

Indeed, we did stink--at least for the first couple of games. Our players would attack the ball with their eyes closed, taking tiny little geisha steps in the general direction of the action, as if carrying trays of hot tea. If the ball came near, they would turn and carry their trays in the other direction.

"Good try!" the moms all yelled, even when it wasn't.

Then we had a rainout--which was encouraging--followed by two big victories, which was even more encouraging.

Suddenly, in just the past two weeks, the Lightning Bolts are a team on the move. Giddy. Overconfident. As executive producer, I am appropriately worried.

"Quit giggling, girls," I say over and over at our next practice.

"Why?" one of them asks.

"Yeah, why?" says another.

"If you giggle, you're gonna run laps," says coach Gary, prompting convulsing, riotous laughter, during which two of the girls strain ligaments near their rib cages, possibly knocking themselves out for the season.

"What's wrong with them today?" I ask coach Gary as the Lightning Bolts run their laps.

"Winning streak, coach," says coach Gary.

"If we keep winning, we're doomed," I say.

"You said it," he says.

When they return from their laps, the Giggling Bolts fall to the ground and giggle some more. One of them--probably my daughter--entertains them with a story about the time her father tried to order a gin and tonic at the McDonald's drive-thru, confusing the poor clerk/announcer person and embarrassing nearly everybody in the car.

"Can you believe it?" she says, her eyes filling with tears. "A gin and tonic!"

There's some truth to this story, though the details are a little hazy. It was way back in July, I think, and we were on the way home from a wedding. Or a funeral.

" . . . A cheeseburger Happy Meal, four fries and a gin and tonic," I told the announcer/clerk.

"Did he say gin and tonic?" my lovely and patient older daughter asked from the back seat.

"Your father was just kidding," her mother explained.

"Sure I was," I mumbled.

As coaches go, I don't really drink much. Not with the hours I keep, up all night reviewing game film and studying the salary cap. There's just no time.

"Who do we play next week?" one of the players asks as they roll around in the grass discussing gin and tonics.

"The New York Yankees," I say.

"Are they hard?" one of them asks.

"They've got a great owner," I say.

"I wish we did," the little girl says, prompting more waves of laughter. Nausea. Vomiting. And several outbreaks of chicken pox.

"What's so funny?" I whisper to coach Gary.

"Beats me," coach Gary says.

And as the sun goes down, the mighty Lightning Bolts run another lap.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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