How do you feel about Eric Taylor? If you immediately say you love him, you wish he was your coach, your dad or your brother, please skip to the next paragraph. If you are scratching your head because you are not familiar with Coach Taylor, continue reading. Eric Taylor is the fictional coach of the Dillon Panthers football team (later the East Dillon Lions), and the grounding force for not only his players, but for the entire amazing series “Friday Night Lights.” I loved this show, and my anticipation of the upcoming movie can barely be contained.
Eric Taylor makes me want to be a coach. Football season is over, so I had to find an alternative, so I settled for lacrosse! I played lacrosse for seven years (middle school, high school and one year of club lacrosse in college), and while I anticipated many things about the sport may have changed since the last time I picked up my stick –first a foremost being the stick itself – I was confident that I had something to offer lacrosse stars of the future. And by future I mean 2023 specifically. That’s right, I volunteered to help a small cadre of dedicated individuals who coach lacrosse to 5-year-old girls in Charlestown. I was aptly wearing my Panthers T-shirt.
I was the new coach, so I understood that the girls may be a little wary of me at first, but it took me no time at all to realize that they were not looking at me with trepidation, they were looking at my stick. Yes, the lacrosse stick I was using – and I have used since middle school — is not made of the light-weight, colorful plastic like the sticks all these little ones use. It is made of wood (see below). I had to explain to them that this was a “vintage” stick and everyone played with wooden sticks in the late 90’s. “The late 90’s?” the girls cooed with wonder as if I was talking about the Depression or some other far-off time.
We started stretching after the girls “took a lap,” the command a fellow coach told me to employ whenever I was not sure of what else to do, a brilliant suggestion. Counting out loud while stretching with all the girls after we ran took me back to my lacrosse days. I was reminded how much I loved the sport and being a part of a team, not to mention how close I was with my teammates. I was instantly excited to be a part of that same experience in these little girls’ lives.
We tried some drills, which were a little on the sloppy side, but then again these girls were five, even Coach Taylor would cut them some slack. Then we planned to scrimmage, four on four. I explained that one team would be offense and the other would be defense. With great theatric effect, complete with hand motions to motivate the girls, I told them that we would run down the field and the offense would try to score and the defensive team would try to intercept the ball. That’s when all their little faces went blank. It took me a full minute to realize I was using words that these five-year-olds had not learned yet. They had no idea what “intercept” meant. When I said “stay on your man,” they were scratching their heads because they did not see any men, they were all little girls.
It was more difficult than I expected to explain to them how to do something without using my normal lexicon. After I went over my instructions again with a more elementary vocabulary, I brought them all in for a cheer, just like Coach Taylor would do. I repeated his mantra “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” to them slowly, but after a few minutes of misquoting and some pointing to each other’s eyes and noses, we settled on “go pink” instead. My players were all dressed in pink and they understood all those words. Coach Taylor would be proud of my improvisation.
They never really got the hang of scrimmaging and my pink team was over-powered by their opponents, a team that was not quite organized enough to come up with a name or cheer, but who had a height advantage. The phrases “get open,” and “pass down the field” were over their heads, so everything I was shouting from the sidelines was futile, and I got frustrated with my inability to speak their language. Then I reminded myself that they were having fun — their squeals and smiles were proof of that — and when it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.
When one little girl ran over to me and asked, in all seriousness, if we could play duck-duck goose next, a wide grin broke out over my face. Coach Taylor would go ballistic if Landry asked to play another sport during practice, but these were not the Panthers, so I let her take a bathroom break instead of taking a lap.
Many thanks to the wonderful coaches in Charlestown for letting me help them, and especially to Laura Montgomery for her limitless support of this blog.