German Soccer, Flips, And Coach Steve: A Therapist’s Experiences With Raising A Child

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Therapist Steve Debenedetti-emanuel

By Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel,

Marriage and Family Therapist

In Midtown Sacramento

September 25, 2019

-Intro By Joe Borders, MFT-
Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel is a therapist in Sacramento. In addition to his practice, he writes a regular column for a local newspaper called The Dad Navigates Troubled Waters. In it he talks about his experiences raising a child as a therapist. In this week’s SacWellness article Steve talks about some of the struggles of watching children grow up while trying to be the best parents we can, despite whatever else we might have going on.

German Soccer, Flips, and Coach Steve

Years ago, one of my favorite fifth graders at the school where I counseled was Blaine. He was kind, gentle, helpful, etc. A model student. And three months later he came back from summer vacation as a completely different animal. He walked up to me and stuck out his hand for a fist bump and in his best John Travolta voice said, “What’s up Mr. DeBenedetti-Emanuel.” The eleven syllables took at least five seconds. My response, “My Blaine, you’ve certainly changed.”

Having worked at elementary schools for fifteen years, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. For whatever reasons, the summer between fifth and sixth grades brings dramatic emotional and developmental changes. Our sweet little 5th graders come back as the “Monsters of Middle School.”

My son KD finished fifth grade last spring. Since Captain Mommy (my wife Stephanie) works mornings and I work afternoons/evenings, my fantasy vision of the summer was that we’d hang out all morning and play sports/swim as much as possible, and have awesome, quality father-son time. I saw it as one last opportunity to enjoy my kind, innocent son and set in stone our already tight relationship.

Then out of nowhere I developed debilitating calf pain, and aside from working I spent LITERALLY the entire summer flat on my back. Nothing helped: acupuncture, chiropractic, medical massage, physical therapy, prescription pain meds, etc. No joke: if eating a clipboard would have helped, I would have gone for it.

And pain was not good for my mood. I was crabby literally all day long. KD was a good sport about it and hung out a ton with me. Still, it was a long haul, and by the end of the summer he was understandably over it. He was helpful but getting pretty grumbly.

Over time I’ve healed a ton and am off the couch and doing stuff. But I’m far from the jock dad I was. No more flips off the diving board with KD. No more hoops. No more of lots of other stuff. And sadly, the limitations are only going to get more extreme. My MRI is BEYOND ugly, and back surgery at some point is a given. And this is brutal for KD. And this is brutal for me. Sports have always been our thing.

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When KD was little, I used to be coach/assistant coach for his sports teams. But as life has gotten more complicated, I’ve stopped. Even though he and I have talked about it 50 times, every time a sports season approaches he asks me if I can coach. It breaks my heart, but every time I have to say, “no.”

Fast forward to a couple weekends ago. It was the yearly “seeding tournament” for soccer. Wanting to be the littlest bit involved, I was the side referee for a game. But walking up and down the sadly unleveled, crab grass hurt my back.

Since it also hurt to sit down and was hot in the sun, I migrated to the players’ side and stood in the shade and watched. I noticed that Coach Jen knows the game and is gifted with kids, but trying to herd in 12 boys and coach a game is tough.

Without thinking about it, I approached her between games, thanked her for working so hard to teach the boys, and empathized with how hard it can be to herd a pack of rowdy boys. She smiled, exhaled and agreed. Without thinking, I impulsively asked her if she’d like me to be a game coach. (I work on practice nights, so I can only make games.) She smiled more broadly and said, “YES!!!”

Then my mind raced. My first thought, “S… do I have time to do this? What if I’m out of town?” My second thought, “C… I have to do a bunch of stuff like on-line coaching stuff. And I probably need to be fingerprinted (for around the 20th time in my life.)” My third thought, “Hey, I just want to kick back and watch the games. Coaching takes way more effort.” But since I’d blurted it out and she was thrilled, I couldn’t take it back. Coach Steve is now the bench coach for the Razorbacks.

Now Coach Steve was not a gifted soccer player. But between watching a few of KD’s gifted soccer coaches, watching countless Bayern Munich soccer matches at 6 a.m. on Saturdays, and talking strategy with KD, I think I’ll be able to contribute.

And even though I didn’t even think before asking coach Jen, I know I had to have had some motivation beyond standing in the shade instead of sitting on a brutal chair in the sun. I know I did it as a way to be closer to KD. He’s definitely a six grader (although clearly on the mellow side of early adolescence.) But still, I want to be involved in his life in a way I physically can. So even though we can’t do flips off the low dive any longer, we can still hang out and talk about soccer. And it’s clear that my helping out means a ton to KD. And that’s cool. Parenting success!

About The Author

Therapist Steve Debenedetti-emanuelMy counseling practice is located in Midtown Sacramento and I focus of working with middle and high school students and adults. I also facilitate a 10 weeks men’s counseling group, and the next round begins on September 30th. To learn more about me and how I work, feel free to contact me at 916-919-0218. Or at

I also write my blog on a regular basis. It focuses on parenting, relationship, and random stuff. It can be found on my website. Check out my recent posts; An Extra Shot Or I Shot The Sheriff and Even Buster Posey Gets Lonely. Other counseling material can be found on Facebook @River City Counseling and on Twitter @rivercitysteve. My Twitter page also includes ongoing conversations about coffee, growing succulents, and whatever else seems interesting. I hope you check it all out.

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