Football season is finally here. If I close my eyes, I can hear the plastic crash of pads and helmets knocking together. I can feel the tiny bits of rubber from the turf on my feet. I can see the haze around the stadium lights and smell the burgers from the concession stand.
On fall Friday nights you can find me sitting in a group of chairs scattered throughout an end zone, surrounded by the families of football coaches. Nervous spouses pace while kids run and play. It’s chaotic but if you ask me, it’s the best seat in the house.
The Best of Times, the Busiest of Times
As a coach’s wife, it is simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite times of the year. There are days that I hate how football takes my coach away from me and my little one.
I get irritated that I have to make sacrifices at my job because of his job. I watch the clock wondering when he will finally get home and roll my eyes when he gets home and immediately gets on the phone with another coach to talk defensive schemes or the passing game.
Some days I add up all the injustices and irritations and answer everything with, “Fine. I’m fine.” Which we all know is the language of irritated spouses the world over.
And then, at some point a couple of weeks into Friday night play, I take a deep breath and let myself enjoy the season. It takes me a minute. But I get there.
The Love of the Game
I get there because there is something about watching the person you love do what they love with passion and conviction that makes you appreciate the long hours it takes them away from you just a little more.
Most people don’t get to watch their spouses close a deal or run a meeting or fix an engine, but I get to watch my husband on the sidelines every Friday and it helps me realize that this isn’t just a job for him; as cheesy as it may sound, it’s a calling.
His pacing, constant visor adjustments, aggressive Skittles chewing, jumping up and down and high fiving – all are physical demonstrations of his passion for the game and his love for the kids on the field.
The Boys of Fall
I get there because my husband tells me about the players – what they do on the field and what their lives are like off the field – and I become invested in their wellbeing. I’m not just cheering for my husband anymore; I am cheering for those boys to get scholarships and to graduate and to make good decisions and be good, kind men.
Friday Night Wives
I get there because there is a group of women who sit in the bleachers and in the end zone with me who are rooting for the players almost as much as their own mamas. These women, these coach’s wives, know about your sons – their injuries, their struggles, their accomplishments. We love that our husbands get to be part of their lives and that, if we are lucky, we do too.
What We Want You to Know:
I can’t imagine any woman fully expects what she’s getting into when she becomes a coach’s wife. We enter into this world naively, excitedly ordering team t-shirts and thinking of all of those great dinners our coaches will take us to after games. You know, just like the ones Eric Taylor took Tami to on Friday Night Lights. (Ha! Hahahahahahahahaha!) Bless our hearts.
It’s not that it’s bad or unpleasant in any way. It’s just unexpected. Kind of like when you grab your drink and take a big gulp, thinking it’s Coke when it’s actually milk. You may like what’s in there, but it takes you by surprise. And for some reason, football season takes me by surprise every year.
So, for all of us wives and moms who are at the beginning of this year’s football season, we ask that you moms and dads help us out a little. I promise we will all have a better season if we can manage to agree on the following:
1. No Play is Meant to Fail
No play in the history of football was designed to lose yards or to leave a gap big enough for a running back to slip through and into an end zone. The offense is supposed to get down the field on each play and the defense is supposed to stop them. One team on one side of the ball is going to come out better on every play. Hopefully, it’s us more than them but someone is going to succeed, and someone is, well, not. It’s part of the game. But our coaches didn’t call that play you didn’t like just to mess with you.
2. They Can’t Hear You
We have all sat next to “that person.” You know who I am talking about. He was a Pop Warner all-star until a wicked phalange injury in third grade benched him, but that experience means he is absolutely an expert on all things football. If my husband and the other coaches would listen to him every play of the game, we would be up by 50 points, minimum.
The thing is, even if my husband did want to sit down and talk plays with you, he can’t hear you from the field. We know it’s important for “that guy” to yell so everyone else can know of his vastly superior knowledge of the ol’ gridiron but, really, they can’t hear you.
3. But We Can
Those coach’s wives sitting in the stands cheering for your babies? We hear you. And what’s more is our children hear you.
Every criticism and unkind word you say about their daddies is heard. Believe me, there are times I want to yell at the one who dropped the ball or missed the tackle but then I remember his mama is probably somewhere nearby and she doesn’t want to hear it.
4. Coaches Know
As much as I don’t want to hear from anyone that they may know things about my son that I don’t, it happens. Our children are different when they are away from us, often in some of the best ways. They assert themselves in ways we many not anticipate and that’s a good thing.
Sometimes, when they are away from us, they are free from whatever expectations – real or imagined – they think we have for them.
Sometimes, kids quit or don’t play because they have told their coaches they don’t want to play. They don’t really like football. They just don’t know how to tell their parents. It’s much easier to blame it on the coaches than it is to disappoint a parent.
5. Small But Mighty
Your son might be quick. He might be able to jump high. He might be a good athlete in many ways. But if he is 4’11” and weighs 105, coaches are probably not going to line him up across from an opponent who is 6’2” and weighs 225. For his safety. Your son may have some skills, but no coach wants to see him suffer an injury that will affect him for the rest of his life.
6. The Politics of Winning
I’ve heard lots about the politics of sports. The view that who steps foot on the field on a Friday night is, in some way, because of who someone is instead of what it is they can do. I am sure there are times this happens. However, when your job is judged on how many wins and losses you have at the end of the season, you put people on the field who can get those wins. Period.
7. In a Fishbowl
I am willing to guess that most of us don’t have jobs where people watch us do them for a few hours a week and make assumptions about our preparation, intelligence or drive.
I may have people point out typos or grammar errors, but I don’t have an entire stadium behind me yelling at me about comma placement.
Before you speak, think of what it would be like to have someone at your desk all day long screaming, “Come ON, Karen! That’s not the right calculation on that spreadsheet! GAH! What are you DOING?!”
8. When the Clock is at 0
Every Friday night, when the game clock hits zero, I go onto the field to see my coach. Whether it’s in defeat or celebration, I get to give my husband a kiss, hug your sweaty boys and be part of something bigger than me. Bigger than a game.
I get to be part of a group of coaches and players who challenge one another, console each other and lift each other up. I get to know your families and be part of our community in a way I never would otherwise.
In those moments, I am not adding up the minutes my coach is away or worrying about that Pop Warner all-star in the stands. I am, instead, adding up the joy I feel at being part of this moment of your son’s lives, of your lives, and I am grateful.