The New Football Coach
The New Football Coach
My teammates kept on asking me questions about that mysterious Miss Charlotte, and they were all anxious to meet her. Had she played in a top league? Had she coached a famous team?
I did not know what to say. My cousin was convinced that her old teacher was the best person on the planet for the job, but she had not explained why. I was about to make up some story when this weird lady stood still in front of us. That beanstalk of a woman with her bizarre headgear, could she be our new coach? My stomach tied itself into one huge knot.
She stopped and just smiled, calmly looking at us with her blue, cheerful eyes. After a few seconds in which we all stood there gawking, Priti, the fastest player in the team and also the most polite, asked her, "Can we help you?" The celery stick answered, "Oh, no, I have come to help you!" After that, she did a funny pirouette followed by a curtsy, like they do in films when they greet a king or a queen. Then she declared: "I am Miss Charlotte, your new football coach!"
Ten pairs of eyes turned to me, shooting daggers. I had the impression that the team would have preferred to have our headmistress, the dreaded PP herself, have a go at coaching our team. I was sure they were about to chop me into little pieces when Miss Charlotte announced: "Today we will be learning how to lose."
Most people have heard of the sympathetic bond that exists between twins, especially identical twins. However, Paulette and Yvette Pesky are the exception. They had been arch rivals from the moment the first of them emerged from the womb because no one knew which of them it had been! The rivalry continued up to their becoming the heads of adjacent schools, with the decision as to which academy would be named after a brilliant local football player to be based on which school won the end-of-term soccer match! Jeremy, a "rubbish" player as he would be the first to tell you himself, is under pressure at school when the morning announcements finish each day with the admonition to "win, win, WIN!" and at home where his father, the owner of a sporting goods store, threatens him with a holiday of private coaching sessions (from him!) if he doesn't score a goal. Unfortunately the school coach -- appropriately named Coward -- quits when the match is announced while the opposing school has hired Yvette’s husband, a ferocious man and ex-military disciplinarian who shouts and stamps. As is Jeremy’s wont in times of great stress, he phones his cousin Marie who has the solution: get her old teacher, Miss Charlotte, as their coach. And Marie, through Facebook and a certain amount of lying, then proceeds to make this happen.
Miss Charlotte not only teaches the team how to lose, but she lets anyone be on the team who wants to be on the team; she gets them talking to their footballs; she wants them, above all, to enjoy themselves, to have fun, and to use their strengths rather than making fun of others’ weaknesses. She insists that they kick the ball rather than another player no matter how annoying he/she is. Not surprisingly, the kids play better and better. Do they win the final game? I'll never tell. You'll have to read the book.
This story is written for the younger crowd, for those kids who are just beginning to read quite well, but who also have begun to realize that not everyone is equally good at everything, perhaps especially at things sporty, no matter how supportive their mothers are. (Jeremy's mum doesn't seem to be in the picture much, actually; it's just dad being super critical. A bit odd, that.) Miss Charlotte's genuine pleasure in all of them doing their very best, cooperating, thinking things through, and especially in having fun is the sort of lesson that needs reinforcing, and this story does it well. It does not preach, and it is funny. Just how funny is hugely enhanced by Tony Ross's cartoon-ish drawings. Miss Charlotte with her pointy elbows, her asparagus-like frame, and her big-brimmed hat and glasses bouncing a football off a bony knee and obviously having the time of her life is the cover art, but the fun continues. Inside, we see the whole flock of kids relating to their soccer balls; we appreciate the scepticism of the group as Miss Charlotte explains her strategy; we experience Jeremy's delight when he finally manages to channel his anger at his father's jibes into a kick that scores a goal. The story is good, but the illustrations are brilliant!
Mary Thomas, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, part of the year, once coached one of her son's soccer teams -- very badly. She would gladly have resigned in favour of Miss Charlotte (or almost anyone else!).