Recently, our family bid farewell to our 22 year-old English soccer coach. Although Chris – a certified soccer coach with New York Premier Soccer – had lived with us for just 2 months, I couldn’t help but feel that he had become part of our family.
Why – you might ask – would we open our home, share our private lives and expose our quirks to a stranger from a foreign land?
It wasn’t a quick decision. James had been attending clinics with New York Premier Soccer – a group that helps develop youth soccer players by offering camps, clinics and coach education – for nearly a year. The coaches were either from England or Ireland and all were passionate about teaching good soccer skills to kids in a fun way.
Rob had observed the skills schools that James participated in. He was impressed with the coaching, philosophy and performance while I was more impressed with how well the kids paid attention. During a session, coach Dale commanded the attention of a group of unruly 9 year-olds with this little gem: Freeze! Stop! Stand still! However, when I tried it at home on James, I didn’t get the same result. I think it just works better with an Irish accent.
James loves soccer. He practices every day, watches games on TV, wears his favorite players’ team jerseys, and loves to talk about soccer with anyone who’s interested. So when we learned about the “Host a coach” program, we figured it would be a good intercultural experience for us all.
We discovered that hosting a coach is a lot like hosting a foreign-exchange student. New York Premier Soccer’s home company Massachusetts Premier Soccer has been running this program for several years with great results. Host (also called home stay) families have helped young men and women understand American culture, absorb the nuance of language, and navigate suburban subtleties. In return, these coaches have helped families better connect to the world and provided a different perspective of “football.”
When we first approached James, he was apprehensive. After all, he was an only child, and felt lucky about his top-dog status. Bringing someone into our home that we didn’t know sounded a bit scary. What if he didn’t like the coach? What if the coach didn’t like him? What would the coach think of him when he was grumpy or naughty?
No doubt our lives would change; there would be an adjustment period. However, Rob and I believed that if we treated our live-in guest with respect, made an effort to make him feel part of our family, agreed to communicate regularly, and had a little faith that we would get along, we would have a good outcome. Ultimately, James had to feel comfortable with this new family dynamic or it wouldn’t work.
James agreed to meet our coach over dinner along with two other coaches we knew. After our meeting, James could let us know by giving us a thumbs up or thumbs down.
Chris was tall and skinny with shoulder-length blonde hair, blue eyes and the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen. James shook his hand when he greeted him and offered his favorite blue lemonade to everyone. Once the sugar kicked in, James really opened up. He joked around, showed off his room – decked out with soccer and sports regalia – and challenged each coach to a “1 v 1” mini-soccer game in the basement.
Unlike James, Chris was not a fan of Manchester United. (He preferred Newcastle). However, James overlooked that obvious flaw because Chris knew so much about Man U’s history and players. They bantered back and forth about World Cup wins, team rankings, and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t follow (because I was making dinner). At the end of the evening James gave us a thumbs up to coach Chris. (Beck agreed with a wag of his tail since he lacked opposable thumbs).
A week later, Chris moved in.
“Why do you talk different?” James said, as he sat on the edge of the guest room bed and watched Chris unpack.
“You mean my accent? Chris said. James nodded.
“I dunno,” Chris said. James continued peppering Chris with all sorts of questions about England, soccer players, clubs, and European countries until late in the evening when we cut him off and dragged James to bed.
During the time Chris was with us, James taught him how to play a game of GoGos. (A popular collectible, GoGos Crazy Bones, are small, odd-shaped, colorful, plastic figurines with strange faces. James’s favorite game is “battle” where each player – usually 2 – lines up their GoGos to face each other. Players take turns flicking a bone at their opponent’s line in an effort to knock down as many as possible. The winner is the one with the most bones left.). Chris would play the silly game willingly and he often asked James to play. James was thrilled because he knew he could get at least 3 games out of Chris instead of 1 from mom or dad.
Chris spoke about his family and friends, and he regularly kept in touch with them through skype. Curious, James knocked on Chris’s door one afternoon during his video chat and spoke to a few of Chris’s friends.
When Chris received a package from home containing his favorite treats, he shared them willingly. James especially enjoyed the giant Cadbury chocolate bars that he would break apart and gnaw on. According to James, “English chocolate is way better than American.”
Rob and I were surprised to learn that Chris enjoyed the same classic rock music we did, and even more amazed when he told us that Bruce Springsteen was his favorite musician. (Since I live with Springsteen’s “number one fan” the discussion evolved into concert locations, best song arrangements, bits of trivia, bootlegs, etc., etc.)
Chris helped out – earning bonus points from me right away – carrying bags of groceries from the car to the house (while the rest of my boys were noticeably absent) and emptying the dishwasher. He was respectful, kind, courteous, friendly, genuine, confident, and loved coaching soccer. He preferred hanging out with us during his nights off whether we watched TV or sat around talking. Chris attended James’s soccer games when he could and was never too tired to kick the ball around with James whenever he asked.
Hosting a coach, turned out to be one of the best decisions for our family. We have gained insight into English football, created fond memories, and (we hope) added a family member for life.