Effective words to shout at soccer: remember the worm!


For a while, Saturday mornings were a time to get something done. I could rake some leaves, or trim a tree, or tinker with the infernal upstairs sink. But now it's soccer season and the chores have to wait.

On Saturday morning I join the ranks of parents and become a sidelines soccer person. I holler words of encouragement to my 7-year-old and his teammates -- words like "kick" and "move" and "remember the worm."

Any real soccer players would say this is not very sophisticated advice. They would be right. That is because they know what is happening on a soccer field. I have only flashes of comprehension.

I understand, for instance, that when the other team kicks the ball in our net, it is not a cause for celebration, at least by us. And I know that when our team kicks a ball in the other team's net, it is a momentous occasion, not to be missed.

The truth is, however, that it's easy to miss it. Especially if you are sitting on the sidelines thinking about how you are going to fix that infernal dripping faucet once you get back to the house.

During one recent soccer outing, for instance, I was celebrating when I should have been consternating. It appeared our team had scored a goal. All the signs were there. The ball went in the other team's net. This was followed by members of our team joyfully jumping up and down at the other end of field.

I was busy chatting up our goalie, a boy I kept calling Ethan whose real named turned out to be Noah. Anyway, I told the kid his team had just scored and that he should therefore begin to be delirious. The kid looked down at the other end of field, saw something -- the way the teams were lining up, or not lining up -- and said, "I don't think so."

It turned out the kid was right. The ball had touched the hand of one of our players. Touching the ball with your hand is, I learned, either illegal or of no consequence, depending on whom you ask and when you ask him.

The opposition coach said touching the ball was illegal, and the goal didn't count. Our coach, who was also serving as a referee, went along with the call. But later that night I cornered our coach at a party and got him to admit that the touch could have been ruled inconsequential. This meant the goal, our team's only one of the morning, could have counted.

Had I known this at the time, I could have assumed the role of the pain-in-the-behind parent. The guy who quibbles about the rules. There is usually one at every league, for every sport.

Since I didn't know what was going on, I shrugged off the call. Which, of course, is exactly what the kids did, even Nicky, the kid who kicked the ball into the net.

I found this out in the second half of the game, when Nicky relieved Noah -- or was it Ethan? -- as goalie. Hard though it was to imagine, the pace of the game slowed down in the second half. Instead of chasing the ball like an angry mob, as they had in the early going, in the second half the kids stood still. They joked around with their teammates, which while not approved behavior, was preferred to punching their teammates.

Things were so slow in the second half that Nicky entertained a visitor, his big brother Julien. Julien had already finished playing in a nearby big-boys soccer game, and dropped by to chat. Such family visits were part of the game.

Earlier, I had to escort Peter, 5, from the field after he had wandered into the middle of the game to say hello to his big brother, Michael, and his dad, the coach and referee. From time to time, stray pets and assorted parents scurried past the net.

Occasionally, soccer action broke out, as happened when Nicky interrupted his visit with his brother to stop a speeding ball from entering the net.

I took some measure of pride in Nicky's stellar defense of goal. He wasn't my kid, but I might have inspired him to greatness. During one of the game's many languid moments, Nicky had found a worm crawling in the grass. Immediately, many of his teammates gathered around, forgetting the game, admiring the worm. The coach was busy, so I sprang into action.

I confiscated the worm and threatened the goalie with it. I told him if he let the other team score, he would have to eat the worm. As the other team thundered toward us, I stood behind the net and hollered to our goalie, "remember the worm."

The kid shut the other team out for the entire second half. I may not understand the subtleties of soccer, but I know the power of worm threats.

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