When the recreational league was short soccer coaches last year, my husband volunteered to coach our son's team.
At the first practice, one dad came to pick up a uniform. His 4th grade son wasn't with him.
"My son stays up until midnight most nights, sometimes later, doing schoolwork, so he can't make the practices," the dad said. "He has a lot of homework."
Another dad, who had a third grader, said, "My son will be at practice only once in awhile because he works with a tutor after school most days, and we all know that education comes first, right?"
My husband said, "Physical fitness is part of a good education."
It's not dumb luck when a basketball player shoots a hoop, when a baseball players hits a run, when a martial artist throws an opponent. To move your body proficiently takes intelligence, and it takes practice.
It's worth learning to move your body. On the days when my kids (and I) get exercise and fresh air, academic work goes much more smoothly. The more they move and the more they train physically, the better they sit, and the friendlier we all tend to be. Thank goodness, truly, for the freedom in homeschooling to make the time for exercise. Charlotte Mason, I'm glad to say, encouraged spending time outside and moving the body (even though she never specifically mentioned soccer! ).
That dad of the tutored-kid didn't reply to my husband's remark about physical education, but he brought his son to practices after that.
After working with the boys during the first week, my husband saw he was given one of the least experienced teams on the league. That didn't bother him. What bothered him was the physical condition of the boys. It surprised and dismayed him to see boys that age out of shape and unable to follow directions.
The score is not the goal
My husband prayed. What should he do as a coach with this group of boys? What was his role? What could he give to them? What was the goal?
Winning the game was not the goal. Rather, winning was the result of other goals such as physical fitness, attitude, knowing the game, and playing as a team. Winning without those attributes really isn't much of a win.
It's the same with testing in school - the goal shouldn't be to get a high score on a test. The high test score is a result of knowing the material and caring about it. A high score without caring about the material doesn't mean much, does it?
Through prayer, my husband decided that fitness and sportsman-like attitude were the goals. Everything else would follow.
And, everything else did follow. My husband put together fun but tough practices and he offered practices several times a week. The boys quickly got in shape and improved their soccer skills.
The attitude training proved to be a bigger challenge, but habits can change. "This team," my husband said to the players, "doesn't whine or complain about a bad call. Refs sometimes make bad calls, but that is part of the game, part of life. The bad call doesn't matter, but your reaction to it does," he told them.
"My players do not taunt another team or laugh at their mistakes," he told them. "We want our opponents at their best because that makes us play better. When you shake hands after the game, say thank you to the other team, even if they don't say it to you. Got it, guys?"
They got it. It didn't take long for the boys to notice that other teams didn't play by those rules, and I noticed our team starting to walk taller - almost swagger - because they didn't behave like the poor sports on other teams. Not anymore, anyway. They felt themselves grow and it showed.
I noticed another shift. As the boys' fitness improved, they outran and outlasted their opponents during the games. Their training - even with initial complaining - paid off, and they played like a team.
In the last game of the season, the team won 7-1, not that it matters.
And the boy whose dad said academics come first scored his very first goal on the very last game of the season. I don't think he'll ever forget that goal, and I won't forget the look on his face or the reaction from this teammates who all rushed him with high-fives.