You didn’t complain. You didn’t argue. And though it was clear that you didn’t want to do it, you did as I have long come to expect from you: You said, “OK” and immediately did as I asked.
And then you made me pay for it.
Let me back up: I’ve been coaching your soccer team for a few years now. Over the past year, in particular, you’ve blossomed as a player. Your ball control is tremendously skillful. You are comfortable shooting from either foot. And while you are often the smallest player on the field, you’re always the most aggressive.
True, sometimes you’re too aggressive. There are many yellow and red cards in your future, young one. This I can see clearly.
I try very hard to treat you with no favoritism and, if anything, I’m harder on you than your teammates. That’s how it was when my father coached me. I think that was the right approach then and now.
And you get the assignments that no one else wants. You pick up the cones at the end of practice. You help pump up the balls. You are my demonstration partner whenever your grandfather, who is helping me this season, can’t be present at practice.
So the other day, when the opposing team arrived for the game short one player, the decision was easy. “Give them Spike,” I said.
You changed from your black uniform into your white one and ran toward the other coach.
“What position do you usually play?” she asked you.
“I’ll play any position,” you told her.
She started you at striker.
Our team kicked off. You stole the ball at midfield, dribbled the remaining length of the pitch, and tapped a perfectly placed shot into the corner of the net past the out-stretched hands of our goalkeeper.
Matea — one of our other most skillful players — was among those you dribbled around en route to the goal.
“Matea,” I yelled. “Next time knock her down.”
Matea nodded. And she proceeded to try to do just that.
It was a glorious thing to watch as, one by one, your teammates stifled your attempts to notch a second goal.
With just minutes to play, the score was tied at two. And that’s when you took a pass from one of your temporary teammates, dribbled toward the goal, cut left and nailed a left-footed shot into the back of the net.
A few minutes later, the referee blew his whistle. You cheered with their team, shook some hands, and finally trotted back.
“You played an amazing game,” I said. “Was that fun?”
You looked up at me as though I’d asked you whether you’d like to get a tattoo of lobster on your forehead.
“It was different,” you said diplomatically. “I’d rather play with my own team.”
“But you played so hard anyway,” I said. “And you beat us.”
“Because you asked me to,” you said.
And that’s all there was to it.