He scored the winning goal.

I coach my two sons, and a passel of their friends, in a local soccer league. I’ve lost count of what season of coaching this is for me, and it’s a gifted and wondrous group of boys. We have been together for practice after practice and game after game, and watching them improve and grow up as a group of young men is one of the highlights of my week. Submitting my competitive urges to the broader, godlier goals of helping them grow and develop is always a part of my Spiritual formation in the fall.

The team straddles the fence between travel/specialized and recreation sports; they all still want to play multiple sports and don’t feel an urge to settle on just one yet. Though there is a variance in skill levels the majority of them are exceptional athletes who will do fine if they go the travel sport route.

They are a pretty tight group of kids after so many years together in both school and athletics—sometimes too tight. They are so familiar with each other that we spend the bulk of the start of practice with sprints, sit-ups, push-ups, etc. It’s hard to goof around when you are short of breath.

Into this grand and playful group of boys this fall we have welcomed a new boy I’ll call S. S’s family are immigrants to the United States, here a few years, and live one school district over from most of the team. He’s an eager boy, teachable, willing, smiling, and a good player who has never been on an organized team. S has worked hard at practice both to learn soccer and to fit in.  In his efforts to play he’s been a bit timid, so as not to offend anyone.

Last week during drills I encouraged him to shoot, shoot, shoot. He’s got a strong shot, one of the strongest on the team, but continued to defer or take soft pokes at the ball. He hit one cracker in practice and smiled from ear-to-ear. I moved around a lot as a kid and remember what it was like to do something on a sport field that made you “one of the boys,” someone worthy of both encouragement and trash-talk. I said to my wife on Friday that I hoped S would score the following day, both for him and his relationships with the boys.

So . . . guess who scored a game-winner to put us on top 2 to 1?


Dean Miller is a husband, a father of three, and a priest at The Falls Church Anglican.  A graduate of Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. he loves a good book, ice cream, walks instead of car rides, all sports, and any great story.  He can be reached at [email protected].