Good news, Coach Klinsmann: Sports dreams sometimes come true

July 6, 2014 

Sports are filled with impossible dreams.

Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

Wayne Gretzky's 1,016 career goals.

Jack Nicklaus' 18 major golf tournament victories.

Team USA winning soccer' World Cup in soccer.

And my soccer team heading in a goal. At least that's what I thought.

But I have good news for USA soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who saw his gritty American team lose to Belgium on Tuesday. Nothing's impossible in sports.

Trust me. I've been there.

I had been coaching soccer since my son was in kindergarten. (He's 29 now.) In the beginning, my main goal was to find shinguards small enough that they didn't stick up above his knees. It was tough to keep the goalie from picking dandelions.

Parents described our early games as a swarm of bees. Some kid kicks the ball to the left and 20 kids swarm to the left. Kick to the right. Buzz buzz to the right.

Luckily, we had a secret weapon. Our field is right next to the Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks. If a train would come steaming by, the kindergartners on the other team would stop and watch the choo-choo. Our kids were used to the trains, so our swarm would follow the ball right into the net. The ol' train trick worked just fine until second grade. Somewhere along the line, the bees stopped swarming, so we had to learn to play soccer.

Over seven years, we lost only a couple of games and scored more than 400 goals. But not one of those goals was ever headed in.

So, I figured I was pretty safe when I told the team in year 8, "If anybody heads in a goal this year, there'll be pizza for the whole team."

I just wanted them to try. All they needed was a little incentive. And I know a thing or two about incentive.

I learned from a master -- Coach Tuck. Tuck owned a restaurant just off the square in Highland. When he wasn't cooking burgers, he was coaching baseball. He didn't have a kid on the team. He just loved the game.

He said his name was Mr. Tucker, but we could call him Tuck. Tuck was a mountain of a man, built like a bulldog. Bulging muscles, slightly bowed legs, gray curly hair and a big, red face. Always a red face. Somebody said Tuck was once a professional wrestler.

Tuck was a quiet man, but he knew how to motivate kids. Our first practice was a disaster. We were rowdy and not paying attention to Coach Tuck. The left fielder was tossing dirt clods at the shortstop. The second baseman was sitting on the bag with his glove on his head. There was a chase scene.

All of a sudden Tuck called us together. He summoned the biggest kid -- a strapping farm kid -- to home plate.

"Now, son, I want you to hit me in the belly as hard as you can. ... Go ahead, I dare you."

The big kid got a devilish grin. Then he let Tuck have it. Pow! Right in the breadbasket.

Tuck didn't flinch. But the big kid was shaking his paw, like he hit a brick wall.

Tuck said it didn't hurt a bit, but it hurts the team when we screw around and don't play ball. Tuck let every kid on the team punch him in the stomach that day. Then we played ball.

During the season, the best player of the game always got to give Tuck's tummy his best shot. We all played like heck to get the honor.

I thought about borrowing Tuck's technique years later for my soccer team, which could get a little rowdy at times. But I didn't have the guts.

I thought about offering to shave my head if any of them could head in a goal. Or letting them toss shaving cream pies in my face. I decided to go with pizza.

There seemed to be a lot more heading going on. Then, in the third game, a winger centered the ball perfectly in front of the net and the smallest guy on our team was right there. Thump! He headed it just out of the reach of the goalie.

Instead of the usual cheers after a goal, the team chanted, "Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!"

The other team didn't know what to think. Neither did I. So I threw my arms up in the air and said, "Yes! Pizza!"

We lost that game, 3 to 2. But we sure had fun. And the pizza in the bleachers wasn't bad either.

Now, if only Coach Klinsmann had offered Team USA pizza.

Dream on.

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