This year I've bought into a season ticket package with some other guys to go to Philadelphia Eagles football games.  I went to a couple of games last year with them, and it was a good time, so I was enthusiastic when they offered the opportunity to join them for the rest of the season.

As part of the season ticket package, there are tickets to home pre-season games.  Typically these games are on Thursday night, which makes them difficult to schedule to attend.  Combined with the fact that the big name players don't play, there isn't a big demand in our group for these tickets.  As a result, I requested all four of our tickets for the Jets game, and took Berta and the kids.

The game was entertaining.  It wasn't as busy as a regular season game by a long shot, but it was busier than any pre-season game I'd been to before.  I would say that that stadium wasn't quite half full.

I tried to convey all of this to the kids while we were heading into the stadium.  We took the train, which was probably a mistake, but always seems so convenient to Berta's work to get in and out of the city, which I really hate driving to myself.  Abby was amazed at the number of people that were in the subway with us headed toward the game.  I told her that it was just one subway train, and it that there would be many more people at the game itself.  She seemed impressed.

It's hard to convey the difference in atmosphere between pre-season and regular season games.  There isn't the same sense of urgency. The same energy isn't there.  The pageantry remains, but the crowd isn't as enthusiastic.  It's an odd thing.

Riley spent most of the game complaining about how he doesn't like football, "It's boring."  Instead of watching Philadelphia play the Jets, he watched the jets on approach to Philadelphia International Airport.  There were 25 that he counted.

I also wanted this to be an opportunity for Berta to see what the games were like to attend, since I'd be doing this every other week or so during the season.  There are some things that are a pain, like how you can't bring a purse into the stadium unless it's completely transparent.  The game itself, if you like football, balances a lot of that out.  The food prices are insane at the stadium, though.  I don't care how good you think Chickie and Pete's Crabby Fries are, that's too much to pay.  On regular games, we usually just grab a sandwich outside the stadium and pack it into the game in a clear bag.  Anyway, the game isn't always so expensive to attend.

There was a bit of a bother getting home since I hadn't taken into account the returning train schedule, and we got the kids to be a little later than we'd like.  Abby and Riley both commented about how they disliked the city -- it was dirty, polluted, full of weird people...  I was a bit sad that I have yet to convey the wonder (this is not the best word, but good enough for now) that I see in the city to the kids.  Maybe they will appreciate it more when they're older. 

Still, the evening was entertaining, and we survived.  Now the kids have been to a pro football game.  Hopefully they'll look back on it as the positive experience I was hoping for.

Over the summer, I signed up Abby for GEYA Soccer, based on the appeal of her experience in their spring soccer program, which she really enjoyed.  I didn't realize what we'd ultimately be getting into.

The fall soccer season is apparently not a popular one among "sporty" types.  The sporty kids seem to rotate their sport experience each season.  I'm not sure what the girls play in the fall, but they seem to leave the soccer field either for other sports or for other pursuits.  A similar thing happens to the boys soccer program in the fall, since a good number of boys leave the soccer program to participate in fall football.  The end result is that not enough players were signed up for fall soccer to have separate leagues for boys and girls at Abby's age group, and so the leagues combined for co-ed teams.

The co-ed teams were not so bad.  There were so few boys playing that between the five teams, each team was only allocated 3-4 boys.  Still, the aggression in the boys' play compared to the girls was apparent on the field, and at least for the first half of the season, the boys and girls avoided being near each other on the field during play, resulting in some humorous moments.  One referee explicitly told one of our girls, "I won't call it if you trip a boy."  That kind of thing.

Another downside of a diminished roster besides the small number of teams was the lack of coaches.  I assume that most of the "sporty" kids have "sporty" parents who follow them to whatever sport they're playing and help coach those teams.  Just before the onset of the fall season, the league sent out an email to all parents suggesting that if nobody volunteered to coach, then the five teams would be reduced to four, and that would be bad for the team sizes.

Thinking that I'd really like Abby to get a real chance to take the field, I replied to the email and volunteered to coach a team.  Yeah, crazy like that.

Luckily, (since I don't know anything about soccer) another parent with soccer and coaching experience volunteered to coach the team, too.  I think the reason they needed more coaches is because (as seems reasonable) not every coach can make every game.  And if there's only one coach, it's hard to field a team when the coach can't attend the game.  Anyway, I ended up not doing much, but simply helping out where I could -- running drills, herding kids, setting up cones, etc.

I have to admit, attending the games was something I looked forward to most for the past couple months.  Our team had some really good players; some willing, but inexperienced players; and some unwilling and inexperienced players.  We tried to encourage everyone to play their best and get them all playing well together.

The thing I'm most proud of in my coaching experience is something that seems pretty trivial, but it's more than what it seems, and it makes me happy:  I was able to remember all of the kids' names.  I thought it would be much harder.  I think my ability to remember all of their names indicates my own commitment to participation.  I find it hard to explain, but in spite of our team's record (I think we won maybe two games all season), it was an oddly rewarding experience for me.

How did Abby do?  Abby started out the season pretty strong for her experience level.  Being in the middle age of the range (6th-8th graders) gave her a slight leg up this season, having been on the young side for her spring soccer team.  Unlike the spring, Abby frequently played ball for the whole game, many times as a mid-fielder, running up and down the field like a madman.  I think last season and running in the summer really helped her performance this year.

Toward the end of the season, it seemed like she was waning a bit.  There are obvious ball skills that she has yet to master.  Too frequently, she'd run full-speed to a ball only to miss kicking it entirely and having it stolen from her.  Sadly, this is the kind of thing that she'd be able to improve on with practice; practice that the team didn't have time for -- the season was two practices at the beginning, and then entirely games.

Abby did do soccer clinic on Friday afternoons through the season.  They practiced ball-handling skills for an hour.  This was not part of the team exercise, but something that she signed up for separately.  It helped a bit, but regular practice with the team would have been more helpful.

There were a lot of things that the team needed to work on that seem to be a recurring theme with soccer players at this age and skill level.  The biggest thing that they all needed to work on was the concept of "one to the ball", meaning that only one player should play on the ball. We were constantly telling the kids to "spread out".  They'd all stand next to each other and wonder why there was never anyone to pass the ball to.  Of course, getting some of the kids (particularly the boys, who often seemed to think that the girls were just some moving obstacles for them on the field) to pass the ball at all was a trial.  Setting up and discovering passing lanes, shooting the ball at the far post, and dribbling/ball control were also things that everyone needed to work on.

Abby and I went to see one of Paige and Sienna's games in the middle of Abby's season. Watching those two girls and their team work was an enlightening experience for us both.  I would love to encourage Abby to the point were she could play soccer like that.

Abby is certainly going to play soccer in the spring, and we've already signed her up for a winter indoor clinic.  The big question at this point is whether I will sign up for coaching again.  In the spring, there are bound to be more competent coaches available, and the teams should be all-girl as the boys return from football to the spring soccer league.  I think it would be a lot of fun to continue to coach, even to take some classes of my own on coaching and soccer, just so I can better learn how to bring the team along.

In all, it was a fun experience.  I think the only real downside was that the season conflicted significantly with Riley's baseball games, which I would have liked to be more involved in. Since Riley's team only had one official coach, it would have been nice to commit to helping out his team with a sport that I have actually played before and knew well enough to teach. We'll see what Riley wants to do in the spring, whether baseball or soccer (he's wanting to sign up for the same winter soccer training program as Abby), and maybe decide what to do from there, since as with fall vs spring soccer, baseball tends to be more popular in the spring as well, bringing with it more experienced and enthusiastic coaches.

We had burgers for dinner last night, and got into a conversation about hamburgers and their names, in general; how a hamburger isn't made of ham, and so a burger made with bear meat (for example) could, in fact, not necessarily be called a "bearburger".

During this conversation, somehow the trademark name of a burger came up in topic: The Quarter Pounder.

I asked Riley where one might obtain a Quarter Pounder.  He answered, "Jake's Wayback?" It's a local place that makes great burgers.  But obviously not Quarter Pounders.

Abby was quick to reply, "I know where to get Quarter Pounders, but I don't want to say because then Riley will know."

"Oh, really?" I asked.  "It's OK if Riley knows where they come from.  Where is it?"

"Cheeburger Cheeburger," she said, triumphant sounding.

+2 points for the parents.

Today was Abby's second soccer game.  Ever.  She's almost 12 (her next soccer game is next week, on her birthday) and she's not played any organized team sports before this year. 

The league is organized through Glenmoore Eagle Youth Association (GEYA) which offers a bunch of sports in our area, similar to LYA when I was a kid.  The league is for girls in grades 6-8, at which Abby is in the lower end.  The coaches are very friendly, and they've been very supportive of Abby and all the girls playing on her team who are not as experienced as some of the other players.

Abby's first game was after school last week.  The team was a bit disorganized because they only had three scheduled practices prior to the game day, and the last of those practices was rained out.  As a result, the girls didn't really know anything about field positions or where they would be playing.  It was a little chaotic, but they took it in stride.

Abby's team scored one goal early on, but the other team - made up of more 8th graders - was able to come back and score three goals by the end of the game.  Abby seemed a bit bewildered by the rules of the game, and the effort required to play well.  I think she enjoyed it, nonetheless.

We've started interval training in the early mornings to get her endurance up.  "No more couch potato," as she says.  We've been running/walking around the development before school, and now even having only done the interval twice (prior to that, I was sick and we only walked), it seems to be making a difference.  If we keep it up, we should be able to run the 5k at Good Neighbor Day this year without embarrassing ourselves too much.

In today's game, Abby was keeping up with the other girls and playing less afraid of the ball.  She still has some work to do in figuring out how to best position herself when she doesn't have the ball, but she's getting better at it.  By the end of the season, I think she'll have a good idea of how the game is played and what she needs to do it well.

Plus, they won today, 2 to 0.