I noticed the odd looks, laughter and pointing within seconds. The referees had just whistled the start of my soccer teams’ final game of the regular season, a game they had to win to place second and ensure themselves a spot in the higher division next season.

So let’s be honest, I had my game face on, but I also wore something else. As the players on the opposing bench continued to laugh and stare in wide-eyed amazement, I raised both of my hands in the air, locked eyes with them and said what any self-respecting coach would say in the same situation.

“What’s the matter? You’ve never seen a dragon before?”

The day before, my team faced another must-win game against a team that honestly, we should have beaten. However, this season has seen us start the second half of most games a bit sluggish. It seemed like almost anytime we had a two or three-goal lead, which was often, the other squad would sneak in and score a goal or two and make things interesting.

I didn’t want to mess around with the chances, so at halftime of Saturday’s game as we held a 3-0 lead I offered the players what I call motivation, and what others might call a bribe.

I didn’t want to mess around with the chances, so at halftime of Saturday’s game as we held a 3-0 lead I offered the players what I call motivation, and what others might call a bribe.

It wasn’t the first time this season. I coach the team with Scott McCreless and he and I had offered pizza, ice cream and other treats only to see us come out flat and make the games interesting.

So as the squad rested on the bench, I made sure to hit my three key coaching points. The squad listened, and then I reminded them about our previous let downs and offered up something for the first time.

“Win by four goals, and I’ll coach tomorrow’s game in a dragon onesie.”

Oh my goodness. Half the team exploded off the bench with yells and laughter. A few of the players looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but let’s be honest. Most of the players think I’ve lost my mind about 80 percent of the time anyway.

It’s funny. I started coaching soccer at the YMCA a season after my youngest daughter, Hayley, was placed on a team with so much talent it was scary and unfair. A funny thing happened that season; that team didn’t progress and if anything took a big step backward.

That was my cue. I spent the next four or five seasons roaming the sidelines as a recreation coach. I took a brief hiatus when Hayley moved to the travel team, but an opportunity came along and I jumped at the chance to coach with Scott. The first fall, the team won four games.

But I knew the talent was there and it was only a matter of time. Sure enough the team kept progressing. And I can’t tell you how much fun it was to see a bunch of girls I had either coached or coached against in recreation soccer grow into solid travel players.

Last fall, they won their division. In the spring, injuries decimated us but we finished in the middle of the pack. This fall they found themselves fighting for a top-two finish all season.

There are days this group makes me want to rip the rest of my hair out. And then there are moments when I sit back and look at what they do on the field and all I can do is smile.

We handled the best teams in the division this fall but somehow found ways to drop two games to decent but not great teams. I’ve been around sports long enough to know how hard it is to go undefeated. It’s also darn tough to win your division.

Seeing the squad so close to an opportunity to finish second and move up a division, I couldn’t bear to see the squad squander the chance. But no matter how much we yelled, cajoled or bemoaned our fate, the players didn’t seem to respond.

All that changed on Saturday afternoon in the second half. The team passed the ball as well as they have all season, connected key passes and scored two quick goals to extend the lead to 5-0.

They were playing so well, they could have scored a lot more, but I started moving players around, which probably helped the other team score their lone goal in the waning moments of the contest.

My team won and as they listened to my quick, post-game speech they all reminded me of my promise. So as the game started on Sunday, I took off my shoes and began zipping myself into a green dragon onesie.

The referee running the sidelines couldn’t stop laughing when he saw me. The club director stopped and took photos of me as did Sid Gowens, who posted his to Facebook. I offered to let either of them borrow it. Crazily enough they turned me down.

The team started sluggish but after Olivia decided to dribble the length of the field and score, we exploded netting three goals before halftime. At halftime, Coach Scott made his points and then it was my turn.

I started talking and motioning with my hands and really getting into my coaching points. I thought they were succinct, accurate and the right things to say. Only something odd happened. The entire group of players were wearing huge smiles and trying their best not to laugh. I turned to Coach Scott only to see him fighting the same losing battle.

You see, my onesie has two red wings on the shoulders. Every time I gestured to make a point, my wings were flapping causing the players and my co-coach to burst into laughter.

I did point out that I didn’t wear the outfit for them to lose the game in the second half. And although we did fade a bit toward the end of the contest, they persevered with a 5-2 win.

Look. John Wooden, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, Anson Dorrance and other great coaches never had to resort to wearing a dragon onesie to motivate their players. I will quickly point out that no one in their right mind will ever equate me to those coaches.

In a season where things had the chance to go wrong, the team persevered. Not because I wore a dragon onesie, but because the players came together and played. And Joey, Malone, Carlee, Ashley, Olivia, Sophie, Emily, Izzy, Deyvis, Eryelle, Catie, Sarah Beth, Jasmine, Alexis, Payton and Hayley earned the second-place finish with a lot of grit and determination.

If it took a 46-year-old man wearing a green dragon onesie on the sidelines to help cement the win and the second-place finish, that was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make.

That and I promise you our players may not recall the score of the game, the opponent we played or exactly how we finished second this season in the future, but I promise you they will remember their goofy, sometimes crazy coach sporting a dragon costume

An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.