Second Place

Today I experienced a new phase of motherhood, a championship game. High stakes, real trophies, not just participation awards. I felt the pressure the kids were experiencing and it made me want to step in and throw up for them. Crazy. You see this season, our seven year old son was somehow placed in error on the U-10 soccer roster. After showing up to try outs I started noticing that all of the boys were bigger and older than him. I wondered where all of his peers went this season and then kind of moved on to the next distracting thought on my to-do list and didn't think twice about it! Well, at least not until the first practice where it came back to me! Everyone was HUGE, tall, strong, fast and skilled. And we were, well, not. 

Coach, I said, I think maybe we are here by mistake! After speaking with our coach, Noah and I realized that indeed he was the youngest on the team. After asking if we should leave the team and re-register, our coach encouraged Noah to stay. I explained to Noah that he would be the least experienced and the youngest on the team. He wasn't crazy about that idea. Then, I explained to him how much he could learn from those who had more experience but at the cost of maybe not as much playing time. He reluctantly agreed to stay. 

Shortly there after we received a very detailed e-mail correspondence from the coach in regard to the systems he would be implementing and the practice schedule. Two practices a week. Oh vey. And, a fairly detailed points-to-badges system for the players efforts. Really? I just want to show up, practice, go home, Coach. 

But, something happened. Week after week, I watched. I admired. I began to adore the way Coach DeFeo approached YMCA, U-10 boy's soccer with excellence. The type of excellence my parents paid several hundreds of dollars for me to be coached with on traveling teams growing up when I was playing soccer in high school.

I watched the passion of a father shine through as Coach DeFeo not only poured out for his own son but for all of our sons.  A few weeks into the season, some parental grumblings began because not every player received a patch for their performance each week. The players knew the rubric for earning different patches and worked hard to achieve the points needed for different offensive, defensive, goals, assist and sportsmanship patches.  Eventually, a disgruntled parent pushed back, and sent an e-mail to all of the parents on the team saying that they felt all children should receive a patch each game for showing up and participating. Though I understand the heart of that sentiment, I do not agree. I decided to reach out to the coach because too often, I feel as though if someone is doing something right or well, they may not hear about it. 

Coach DeFeo,

Your approach with our soccer team has left a huge impression on me as a parent and an even bigger impression on our son. You strive for excellence not only in the sport but, in character development, and lifeskills that our children so desperately need in all areas of their life. I appreciate that you honor and recognize accomplishments through your patch system. It has helped shed light on the idea that “everybody wins just for showing up” is not beneficial after a certain age. And, in fact, I believe, becomes detrimental for a trophy that has no real value. Children understand this at a very young age. I’ve heard my child tell company at our home when they ask about his soccer trophies that, “Everybody gets one!”. What I have never heard him say is, “I worked hard, our team worked hard, and we earned this trophy!" 

Your patch system is also helping our son to realize that if you don’t get a patch that disappointment is OK. It can become the fuel to ignite the extra push, the extra drive, that a “Trophy for All” could never teach. In addition, your players know you value them, you encourage them and I know that your patches are meaningful because they are earned. I also think it is helpful for young boys to start to find confidence in  what they do well. You honor them by noticing what they do well instead just saying “Good game! See you next week.” You are fair, your are kind and you are consistent.

As a teacher, I understand that what YOU do is the path less travelled. I understand that you approach your volunteer job with excellence and as a true professional. I've noticed that what you do to strive for excellence, creates so much more WORK for you. Thank you for treating this YMCA soccer team with the passion, commitment and excellence that you do. By expecting and displaying excellence, your team will achieve it! You are believing them into being incredible soccer players.

As a mom of a son, I so appreciate your approach. My son, who I hope will grow up to be a hard working man and father, needs to know how to push harder towards his dreams, be coachable and strive for excellence.  You are teaching these boys to show up, play hard, play clean and be encouraging to their teammates. When I heard that you were once again facing push back on your choices as I coach, I felt discouraged for you. But be encouraged, Coach, true leaders and difference makers in our world are the ones who become the catalyst for change and who take the path less travelled.

Thank you for caring enough about your son and all of the sons represented on the team to not take the easy road. You don’t just show up and go home. And, thankfully, that is teaching our sons to not just to show up and go home either. Many of these boys may not go on, for one reason or another, to play soccer for years and years. However, what they will take from this soccer season is more than a trophy for just showing up. Thank you  and the other coaches on our team for striving to do things so very well. 

We feel so fortunate that you are our coach. Know that your leadership extends further than to just the children you coach. People are watching and noticing how great of positive impact you are making!  


“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man…” Colossians 3:23

Today, we took runner-up to the champions, but in my book, my child won. He won a season under the influence of a man who taught him to dream, to set goals and to work hard. For that, I am forever thankful. And, guess what, his runner-up medal, means something more than just showing up for the season.