Finding a Diamond

While some male behavior can be hard on children, it always makes sense to look beneath the behavior to the goodness of every father.

The coach was a yeller. My heart sank with the report from the first soccer meeting, as I pictured the weeks ahead. My son is a wonderful team player, but not a star--and he's not used to verbal abuse. I just didn't understand why coaches had this seemingly compulsive need to berate and humiliate their players in the name of recreation. The only bright spot was that my husband was interested in being involved, so I wouldn't have to get upset and outraged and disgusted so often.

My husband soon hound himself as unofficial assistant coach, and began reporting back on his progress in helping the coach think about all that yelling. He pointed out the children who didn't seem to do better as a result. He modeled sharing information, specific suggestions and praise. He began telling me things he really liked about this man. I started feeling more hopeful about the season and was actually looking forward to going to my first game.

The game wasn't torture, but I couldn't tell that my husband had had much impact. The yelling seemed pretty constant and negative to me. Then, after the game was over, the coach turned to my husband, face open and flushed with all the activity and said, eagerly, "I did a lot better this time about yelling, didn't I?" My husband warmly agreed, and the coach said that he'd really been trying hard.

This was the moment of revelation for me. That open face, that eager desire to do better, just didn't fit in the same box with unaware jerks who get some perverse pleasure out of hollering at children. I had to abandon the stereotype then and there, and start noticing the real human being.

There was a lot to notice. I found out that he and his wife have seven children, four of them through the foster system. At another game he coached the first fifteen or twenty minutes with his youngest--a two or three year old--clinging to his leg until his wife was able to get there. Three of his children were on the team. He'd been doing this for years, getting home from work just in time to get out to practices. On a day when we couldn't pick up from practice, he offered to drive my son home, even though it was way out of this way. His son was the one my son got to know and like the best.

The day we went to his house to watch videos of their play instead of practicing was the best. As I sat in their tiny row-house living room, with the dining room table visible through the doorway, set to feed so many mouths, and watched him running his fingers through his hair as he tried to figure out how to help these children learn, I think I saw him clearly--a totally good man.

At the last game of the season, he certainly did do some yelling. But I was more aware of all the yelling he didn't do. I listened to him holler out encouragement and reassurance, then mutter under his breath what a terrible play it was, why couldn't they learn, etc.--a touching act of intentional and hard-won restraint.

My son had a fine season, coming to the end still not starring but quite pleased with himself and the whole experience. For me, however, the season had been a precious gift. I'd found a wonderful human being in a place where I'd least expected it, and the whole world looks more hopeful as a result.