The Jamboree was the first time our kids played live football. The first time being on a field as a football coach. Not only as an assistant football coach, but uniquely as one having cerebral palsy. There was much apprehension going into the day. As any new situation would cause some uncertainty, the surroundings would be unfamiliar. Thinking about the nervous energy running through my body was nothing. We had eight and nine-year-old kids, some of whom had never played football. It would be the first time playing for real. We prepared them to the best of our ability leading up to that first live action. One thing learned as a coach is there isn’t any way to know what will happen once play starts. Having no experience coaching football, there wasn’t any way to prepare for what I would experience or see. There was curiosity over how it would feel to stand on the sidelines? What would be visible and not visible? How would the other coaches react? Would our team be successful and how good were we? The fun part was answering these questions and more throughout the day.
The day began with nervous energy and excitement. It was going to be fun watching our team play no matter the experience. We played in South Seattle out toward West Seattle at Chief Sealth high school. The sun was shining on a warm late August day. Adding slightly more uncertainty was traveling to an area of town unfamiliar to me. I’d heard of the high school before without ever registering where it was located. Finding the stadium was easier than anticipated, along with parking, and getting inside the gate. Once I located the team everything calmed quickly. The feelings of being anxious and alone dissipated almost instantly, as the focus turned toward football. My attention shifted quickly to helping the coaches and our team get ready to play. The kids were just about done weighing in, then off to warming up we went.
Once play began, the format was surprising. With the jamboree format, we played two short games against different opponents in each game. Both teams received one chance playing offense and one chance playing defense. We played offense for a continual thirteen-minute period. Then it was on to defense for the same amount of time, thirteen minutes. There were no markers for down and distance. You had thirteen minutes on offense to score as many times as possible. If the team couldn’t score in thirteen minutes, then they weren’t going to score. The ball was placed on the 40-yard line to begin each offensive possession. If a team scored before the thirteen minutes ran out, the ball would be placed back on the 40-yard line and the team would attempt to score again. It seemed an incredibly unique way of playing football. This could easily be the way football jamborees are played, but it was new to me.
There was always the feeling that standing on the sideline of a football game would feel awkward. The high school stadium we played at had pretty good size. One side of the stadium had a concrete bank of bleacher seats. Maybe twenty rows up and spanning the entire straightaway of the track. Looking toward those stands, they appeared to be pretty full. There is often insecurity about being completely visible. It has always been more comfortable to blend in with a crowd. Standing in a group is preferable to standing alone. While standing on the sideline everyone in the stands would be able to clearly view me. View my movements hampered by cerebral palsy without my knowledge of them looking. Most of them wondering what might be going on as a passing thought in many cases. It felt going into the day, my mind may fixate on that insecurity of being totally visible to many people. My anxiety was inaccurate.
When we walked onto the sideline in preparation for the jamboree, people watching me was far from my mind. It never occurred to me how much would be going on during the game. All of the focus was centered around our kids on the field. It couldn’t have mattered less if people were watching me and wondering about cerebral palsy. Our focus was making sure the kids had what they needed for success. Making sure they got a pat on the helmet upon coming off the field. Or saw smiling, clapping, and cheering of encouragement when they looked to the sideline after moments of success. Giving the players instruction and support in moments of uncertainty. There wasn’t time to think about cerebral palsy, or how my movement might look walking around in isolation on the sideline. People could easily see me, but my attention was fixated on the game and the kids.
They played really well in the two jamboree games. We won both our games by comfortable margins. In the second jamboree game our defense didn’t give up a score. It became clear we had a talented team on our hands. For me, watching all of our hard work in practice come to life was an exciting feeling. During the two games, they allowed two coaches from each team on the field. Our job on the sidelines was made easy. We kept track of kids on the sideline who weren’t playing and handled substitutions as needed. The excitement of the games had my mind wrapped up in football. Watching kids make plays and getting a feel for watching football from the view of a sideline. It’s much different than watching football being played from the stands or on television. The game moves more quickly and it’s more difficult to see. Hopefully as the games progress, things from the sideline vantage point will become clear.
It seems amazing how self-consciousness can work. Upon beginning this coaching adventure many things came to mind. Most of them revolved around my cerebral palsy. How would kids and parents react? How would I react in these new environments? The fascinating thing becoming clear is CP has become the first thing forgotten about. Our kids and the game of football fill my mind. Making sure they are safe and encouraging them to succeed becomes important. It becomes less important whether someone looking on from the stands is wondering about my abnormal movement pattern. The most exciting thing has been exposing these kids to cerebral palsy and them exposing me to teaching football, while learning how much I have grown to care about them.