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Wednesday August 27 2014
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A New Chapter

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I wasn’t ready for it. It started as a bubble in my chest, then like a wave, it rumbled up into my throat. I could barely get the words out, as I told my youngest son, “Great effort out there… I love you.”

My throat closed up, and I gave him a quick handshake and hug as he walked off the field and took a seat on the bench behind me.

Why the sudden jolt of emotion? I was watching Anthony walk off the field—and over to me on the sidelines—for the last time. These were our final soccer moments together as members of the same team... father and son; coach and player.

Sure, it hurt as we neared the end of our playoff loss, but that was not what got me choked up. It was all the years we shared, the countless games – all that time ticking down to the final seconds. No more would we wear the Warrior Green. No more drills. No more hands together in the team huddle.

Before our brief embrace on the sidelines, we shared an incredible moment: our eyes connected and we both nodded, knowing it was over. That silent connection between a parent and child who have shared the indescribable bond of coach and player brought an immediate flood of memories.

Years before, I reluctantly became an assistant coach for my daughter’s co-ed soccer team even though I didn’t know much about the game. Even though Anthony was two years younger, he was a contributing member of that first team – which went 0-8. The young players took their lumps, but got better every game, every season, eventually rocketing the top of the division. We lost three straight league championship games before winning the title last November. Anthony and I shared all those ups and downs together: practices, games, referee encounters, talented opponents, parental interactions, wins and losses. But our time together also opened the door to countless conversations about life in general.

Just being there—being together—has helped form the rock-solid foundation of our relationship. Sharing the lessons about competition, fun, human relations, being a teammate, leadership, success, and yes, disappointment. Those experiences are the irreplaceable moments in our lives.

Together we learned how to manage his asthma. How his sleep and nutrition affect his play – and how mine affected my coaching. We learned how to control our tempers, how to be gracious winners and how to move on after difficult losses.

Now it’s onto high school for Anthony, where more talented and experienced coaches will instruct him. I hope he has learned respect for the game and for others, as I often held him to a different standard in our player-coach roles, and I hope his code of conduct as a player and teammate will make me proud.

In a few months, as I sit with the parents and watch him play, I'm sure I will think about our time together in battle, wearing the same colors. And even though I won't be handing the game cards to the ref, nor giving him instructions, I will be there as we move on to another life chapter for father and son. Grateful for the time we have shared as player and coach, and looking forward to the new times ahead.

And cheering for my son.

Paul Chryst sat at a table in Greensboro, North Carolina, answering questions from the media. The third-year Pitt head coach was certainly anxious to wrap up the interview session and catch his plane back to Pittsburgh, but he was also at ease.
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