Volume 76, Number 18 | September 20 - 26, 2006

SPORTS

Living in Wayne’s world while coaching with Dad

By Judith Stiles

Young Molly Altreuter’s sports hero happens to be a man, Wayne Rooney, better known as the guy who dubiously distinguished himself in the 2006 World Cup when he got thrown out of a match for allegedly kicking an opponent in the groin.

Good golly Miss Molly, why does a 13-year-old girl choose a roughneck like Wayne Rooney to idolize, instead of an all-American role model, like Mia Hamm? The sophisticated and articulate Molly is quick to explain that although Mia Hamm is a great player, she has retired from soccer, and Wayne Rooney is a talented, spirited athlete who is very exciting to watch on the pitch. Miss Molly is smitten with his rocket shots on goal, his feisty style and just maybe a few of the pale freckles (which they both have). This budding soccer expert even has a Rooney bobble-head doll, not to mention his poster on her wall, and she dreams about soccer between her Wayne Rooney bed sheets.

Make no mistake: Wayne Rooney is not her true love. Rather, it is the game of soccer that is her heart’s desire, which she eagerly plays and also coaches throughout the year. Miss Molly co-coaches teams of 8-year-old girls with her father, another soccer nut, who is better known in soccer circles as Tall Paul.

Father and daughter coach in the Downtown United Soccer Club’s girls recreational division and in the Lower Manhattan Urban Soccer League. Here Tall Paul paints the big picture of having fun and learning how to play, while Miss Molly has the inside track on what is the most constructive way to teach kids…well, because she is a kid.

“Molly has more ball skills than I do, so she demonstrates. While I try to teach them soccer by turning everything into a little game, so that they have fun,” says Paul, as Molly nods at her dad in agreement.

“That’s right!” interjects Molly. “No laps, no lines and no lectures is the way we run a practice.” She finds that running laps at practice doesn’t make anyone a better player and it is boring to boot.

Before Molly was born, Tall Paul was a serious basketball player and had little involvement in soccer. When Molly was 10 and played coed Little League baseball, he was aghast at the way boys would roll their eyeballs and yell out things like, “You were thrown out by a girl!” when shortstop Miss Molly gunned them out at first base. Experiences like that persuaded Tall Paul to get involved in coaching, which led him to take up playing soccer himself with adults. A typical weekend for them includes coaching two games of little girls, Molly playing in her own travel team match, Tall Paul playing on Sundays with the men at Pier 40, even after playing in a family game with Molly in the afternoon. Sometimes they even squeeze in a pickup game at J.J. Walker Park on Saturday nights, even though the games begin at 9 p.m.

When Molly and Paul coach together they try to create a balanced game in which every player tries different positions on the field, and all the girls get significant playing time, even if it means losing a game.

Miss Molly wisely explains, “Even if I was coaching an important state cup game, I would not let any girl sit on the bench the entire game just to get a win. I would want every kid to play so that they could have that experience of playing in a big game.”

This time her dad nods in agreement and adds, “Win or lose, they all get up and have breakfast the next day.” Which is to say that it’s not worth getting so caught up in winning games like some coaches do.

Miss Molly and Tall Paul have developed their own slogans, such as “No flowers!” which they shout out during games. The players understand this is a signal that they are bunching up too much around the ball, like the petals on a daisy.

Molly is not shy about encouraging girls to be more aggressive in a healthy way. She tells the girls to “stick out their butts” to protect the ball from being taken by the opponent, and she wants them to nudge, even push the opponent with their shoulders in order to keep the ball.

Tall Paul now has his “D” coaching license and is passing along a wealth of information to Molly on how best to coach youth soccer. He feels like a lucky dad to have this kind of time with his daughter, as they grow into the so-called “beautiful game” together. He just upgraded to coaching a women’s team in the Metropolitan League. And, who knows, someday as his daughter gets older, he just might have the opportunity to work with the Women’s National Team, that is, as Miss Molly’s assistant coach.

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