Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soccer Coach... Who knew?

I asked all the kids at the first practice; “Why are you here?” They all answered that they love soccer or they wanted to play soccer, but none of them told me they were here to win. Everything we’d done since then has been rooted to that concept. Our practices are action packed and fun, and our games are all played in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

It all started last spring, when Drew was chosen to play on a travel soccer team in town. Drew is skilled at soccer, but was clearly one of the weaker players for that team. He was smaller, younger, and less mature than the rest of the team. In his defense, he was playing “up”, which in soccer lingo means he was too young for the team age, but he was allowed to play with the team because the team didn’t otherwise have enough players to field a team and there was no team for his age group. Drew enjoyed the competition, and practiced twice a week with the team, but game after game, found himself on the sidelines watching for more than 85% of the games. This was never an issue for him, but it didn’t make sense to me. I felt that he needed to be on the field if he was to improve and I hoped that as the season progressed, so would he. At the end of the season, it was obvious Drew would not have a place to play the following season, and like any other “Papa Bear”, I had to look out for my cub.

Aimee suggested that I step up and volunteer to coach the nonexistent team that was needed for Drew’s age group and start recruiting players so we could field a competitive team. I reviewed the pros and cons and although I had serious reservations, I knew three things that helped me realize I would be an effective soccer coach.

1.As a teacher, I know how to treat children fairly despite dramatic differences in work ethic, ability, and motivation.
2.As a camp counselor, I’ve “coached” hundreds of kids over the last 20 years.
3.As a parent, I could never forgive myself for being afraid to step out of my comfort zone for the sake of Drew’s well-being.

The cons were mostly the fear of public scrutiny if I was a bad coach. I generally only do things I’m good at doing to preserve my self esteem. I couldn’t be a failure in my son’s eyes. So, I listened to all the jokes from my friends, read a ton about soccer, talked a lot of soccer with friends with experience, and took the plunge. It did mean some things around our house would need to change. After school tutoring would have to stop, we’d need to adjust Emily’s nursing hours on weekends, and our schedules would be changed to allow soccer to become a priority.

I now own more soccer shorts than any other middle aged, overweight, non athlete that I know. I have thirteen boys and girls who love soccer and habitually attend our practices and games. Miraculously, they play equal time despite the societal pressure to win, win, win! Maybe that might cost us a victory here and there, but all of them love soccer and are happy to be on our team. I have two fantastic assistant coaches who have been so helpful and all the parents that have been so supportive. But mostly, I have Aimee, who encouraged me to try something new, and has been so understanding and helpful as I took on this new challenge.

I always thought I was doing the noble thing to help Drew. I never intended for it to be another source of pride for me. The most important reason I love this team is that not one of my players complains when we lose, brag when we win, or gripe about playing time. Of course not, they are here because they love to play soccer.