Coaching for a Change
Over the past several years I have learned a valuable lesson as a coach… and that lesson is, just because you have played a sport does not mean you can coach it. To go from player to coach has its difficulties and for me it all started with expectations. I played soccer from age six to nineteen and somewhere along the way I forgot all the hard work it took to get where I ended my career.
When my son reached the age of four he started his soccer career as a player and I began mine as his coach. Little did I know that his first season was very nearly my last as a coach. My focus and goals were tactical and technical domination and I felt that my experience as a player put my team above the rest. The focus and goals of my team, I learned during the first practice and maybe more accurately the first five minutes, were far more elementary. Go figure.
I’m a fun guy, or at least I think I can be, but the chaos and wanderings I encountered that first practice left me both frustrated and unsatisfied. I had, and I have since learned every other coach dealing with children this age has had, a wanderer who was more concerned with the flowers and bugs than the drills and inter-workings of the game. The rest seemed totally content to run around and on occasion kick the ball if it suited them to. While the drills failed, the kids ran wild, grass was picked and parents looked-on, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing as a coach. Then the thought hit me.. “Maybe I’m not the problem? Maybe I just have the worst team in the history of soccer?”
That first practice and the next several practices I’m sad to admit were total wastes of time for the kids and myself. I was so angry and frustrated I told my wife that I was going to quit. How in the world would I make a difference with these kids or teach them anything for that matter? After numerous venting sessions with a wife, who was gracious enough to listen, I began to realize that God was using this group of kids to change my expectations for them and myself.
I humbly learned that I was a terrible coach. Could I play the game? Sure, or at least I felt like I could but coaching was not playing. It was far more than that. What was second nature to me was unknown to the kids and it was only after I realized how ridicules it was to expect them to perform like an experienced player that I began to find enjoyment in them and the process.
Practices became bearable and I think the kids started to enjoy themselves as well. The baby tyrant coach was growing up and as a result the team was improving. Did we win every game that year? No, but neither did we lose every game. The kids were having fun even if they were giving up goals faster than I could count. Win or lose they didn’t seem to notice and by seasons end I actually grew to enjoy that. What started out as a conquest for me to show my superior knowledge and understanding of the game ended in one of the more humbling experiences of my life.
To go from a player to a coach is no easy transition but looking back on those first few seasons I understand now that in order for me to be where I am as a coach today I needed to forget everything I thought I knew, learn to instruct in a way that engaged the kids, allow the kids to be kids and learn to look for the growth in the players throughout the season.
To encourage those of you who have played and are looking to coach or even those of you who have been coaching for some time I would say, simply enjoy the process. Regardless of the age or skill of your kids it is your job to make the game relevant, fun and engaging for the players. In the end, if you have even just one child, hopefully you will have more, come back because they enjoyed the game you have succeeded as a coach.
Take a deep breath, relax and remember to enjoy the game you grew up loving and playing. Remember, you are an ambassador for the game regardless if you mean to be or not. Make others love the game like you do. Besides at the end of the day our conduct as coaches is a direct reflection of the Lord and I wanted, and still want, that reflection to be a positive one.