If someone would have told me I was to become a soccer coach in my middle age, I would surely have called them crazy. I hadn’t played soccer, watched soccer, or even picked up a soccer ball until I had my own children. When I was a child, it was baseball first, with football and basketball a distant second, and soccer not even on the radar. But as my young children began to take an interest in it, and then began playing it, I inevitably found myself in the position of assistant coach. After a season or two, I felt I could do it better, and decided to have my own team as head coach, which I did for five seasons. So with my two boys firmly ensconced in their respective travel soccer seasons, and myself in retirement, I though it would be fun to recall a few of my favorite moments as a recreation league soccer coach.
Originally, I had no desire to be even an assistant, never mind full-time coach. After a phone call from an old friend who also just happened to be the director of the boy’s soccer league, I was coerced into helping out when he told me they needed coaches for the upcoming season. That first season was so much more fulfilling than I ever expected. I enjoyed each and every child (yes even the annoying ones), and each and every parent who felt their child wasn’t getting enough playing time (you know who you are). I have made friends that I still have today, and have gotten to know so many great children and families.
One of my favorite stories is one of a little 6 year old boy, who was on my team for more than one season. He was a pleasant boy, and had a very nice family. It was only that he would ask me, “coach, when can I play goalie?”, “coach, when can I play goalie?”, “coach, when can I play goalie? You get the picture. Well it turns out the 8 game season flew by and before I knew it, we were getting ready to play our final game of the season. Naturally, I was posed the question. “Coach, when can I play goalie?’. “RIGHT NOW!!!!!!” I said, get in there buddy, as he dashed toward the net in delight. A few moments of the game had gone by when I thought to look and check on our most enthusiastic of goalies. To my complete surprise I found our net totally empty as my friend had walked around and sat down in the grass, BEHIND THE NET!!!!!. I yelled for him to get back into the net, but he just sat there, not a care in the world, looking at the sky. After a quick goal by the other team, I got him back to the sidelines and asked him what he was doing. I said” at least sit in front of the net, the ball may hit you accidentally!” He told me that he sat behind the net because he was afraid the ball may hit him. “That’s the general idea!” I exclaimed as I just laughed and hugged him.
Coaching your own son is never easy. And when that son is Andrew, the difficulty is compounded. One season I was emphasizing passing more that I ever had. As young boys, they mostly want to dribble the length of the field and shoot. As they get older and more skilled defensively, that becomes much more difficult.” Passing is the most important part of the offense” I would say over and over. To encourage the boys to be as passionate about sharing the ball as I was, I instituted a reward for any pass during a game that led directly to a goal. If any player made a crossing pass in a game that led to a goal, the entire team got ice cream after the game, win or lose. This affectionately became known as the “ice cream” pass. So, of course, after EVERY pass in a game, Andrew would ask “was that an ice cream pass?” to the delight of everyone EXCEPT for me. After a game or two, the boys really caught on and ice cream was a regular event after our games. As the season went on, I increased the number of passes required to two, and then three, as the boys continued to improve and share the ball selflessly (yes, I am that good of a coach). Toward the end of that season, we were quite a team, often having to stop scoring in order to be good sportsman. Sometimes this would happen by halftime. I would ask the boys to pass the ball around, and try not to score. It is difficult for a 7 year old boy to not score a goal when he has a chance in a game, it is impossible for Andrew. Our final game was a lopsided affair. We had the requisite 6-0 lead quickly, and I implored the boys not to score too much more. After two more quick goals, I told the boys that the next one who scored would be out for the rest of the game. No sooner had the ball been put in play, than Andrew took a pass and dribbled half the field before putting it by the goalie. Knowing what I had just said, he scored the goal, raised his arms in celebration, and then just ran right to the sideline knowing he would be removed anyway. After the game he said, “I knew you would take me out so I saved you the trouble” with that trademark sheepish grin on his face. All I could do was laugh, which I did quite a bit of with those boys.
That season was probably my favorite (Andrew notwithstanding), partly because it was my last, but mostly because we had a great mix of families and young boys, better people than players, which is something I always wanted to teach them as a coach. I learned to appreciate and enjoy a game I had no use for as a younger man, once again proving the old axiom “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. Since then, both of my boys have moved on to travel soccer. An endeavor I am under-qualified for as a coach, but surely have the requisites to be an enthusiastic, encouraging, positive influence on both my sons, and their teammates, all of which have become our good friends. Sometimes we lose sight of what is truly important in youth sports. It isn’t the wins or losses, but the life lessons that sports teach our precious young children. Sportsmanship, competitive drive, sacrifice, and diligence, qualities any parent would want their children to possess to prepare them for success in any sport. But so much more importantly, to prepare them for success in life.