Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I have been volunteering as a soccer coach for a 5th and 6th graders in a little town called Matapalo, near Playa Grande. I got set up with the team through an organization called CEPIA, that helps underprivileged kids in the area. Basically, the CEPIA people gave me some soccer balls, some cones, and a whistle, and wished me good luck. The previous coach quit after a few weeks because he got injured and had a tough time understanding the kids.
My first experience with the Matapalo team really intimated me. Half of the team was barefooted and did not have shirts. Kids were eating candy, wrestling, cussing in Spanish, and when I spoke to them they barely listened. The kids didn't speak a word of English, so everything had to be said in Spanish. My first practice was difficult, but I survived.
For my next practice I prepared a lot of drills ahead of time and wrote them down on a piece of paper. This worked like a charm, and my second practice was much smoother. The little town of Matapalo is centered around the soccer field. There is a grocery store, some bars, a church, a school, and not much else. Once a dog chased a few horses directly across the soccer field. Another time, after a scrimmage, the kids insisted on having a penalty shootout since the score was tied. I agreed, although I didn't think about the fact that the goal we were shooting on had no net and was right in front of a grocery store. One of the kids made a great penalty shot that blasted through the goal, and headed directly for a man who was drinking a beer in front of the grocery store, knocking it out of his hand of course. Everyone cheered a lot when that happened.
Costa Ricans live for soccer, and Matapalo is no exception. Since the town is built around the soccer field, there are always old men, kids, drunks, grandmothers, and construction workers checking out the practices. When we scrimmage, a lot of the "borrrachos" start making calls and criticizing my reffing. Some even have their own whistles that they blow. One day we received a few new soccer balls from CEPIA, and the kids were so excited. However, Axcel, one of the 14 year olds on the team (there are some very old 6th graders in Costa Rica), blasted the ball across the field and into the street. Of course a car was speeding by at the exact same time, and it nailed the soccer ball, causing a very loud "POP!" The whole town laughed and applauded, and it was probably the most exciting thing that happened in Matapalo all week. Some of the kids took the flat soccer ball and took turns putting it on their heads like a helmet and running around.
One thing that I have been working with my team on a lot is cussing and pushing. I speak Spanish pretty well, so I understand a cuss word in Spanish when I hear it. I know that a lot of kids say bad words when they play sports, but it started rubbing me the wrong way when every other word that these kids would say was a swear word. Finally I started cracking down on cussers, and makingkids sit out practices if they cussed too much or pushed too much. It seems to be working so far.
Our team as already scrimmaged a local "soccer gang," and it was very exciting. They played against a group of kids who basically formed their own little neighborhood team. I made everything very official, from the coin toss, to kick-off, to the corner kicks. It was great to see how much they enjoyed it, and the whole town of Matapalo was definitely cheering (and criticizing my reffing) during this game. Today I made the players write letters to people in San Luis Obispo, California, telling them who they are, and asking them to donate old soccer equipment if possible. They wrote excellent letters, and then scrimmaged the soccer game again. A lot of players had to leave early for music class, because there was a big parade that they had to do around town (one thing that public schools here take very seriously is music class). Our scrimmage went OK, except that whenever the parade walked behind the goals, I stopped the game for fear of hitting someone (this really aggravated the players). I am really enjoying bonding with the local kids in the community, and I feel like I have a great opportunity to help them out with something that is important to them, and sneak in a few lessons about building good character along the way.