|Looking to pass. This makes me happy!|
Perhaps blind optimism meets sheer lunacy somewhere in the few strides it takes me to hop out of my 15-passenger van onto the shabby fields around the rural Tidewater Virginia county where I “coach” kids in youth soccer.
I have this notion, you can’t really call it confidence because I lack any sort of statistical data to back it up, that I can teach 12 kids every spring and fall life lessons through a game with a round ball played by billions of people around the globe.
The boys and girls I get vary every year. That is, except for my own kids who are ages 9 to 11 — I always coach them; they have no choice. (Cue the smiling emoji.) What doesn’t vary are three of my goals for these kids.
I’m not trying to mold the future Lionel Messi, or coach up the next Alex Morgan. I realize my limitations, not to mention the limitations of many of the kids on my team. Some of my kids appear to have allergies to soccer balls. Others tell me they’d rather be eating dinner. Rarely do I get all 12 kids at a practice and this spring I have yet to have all 12 kids on my team show up for a game.
It’s all good. For about 10 weeks each spring and fall I have them for an hour a day, two days a week and for a game on Saturdays. I have three things I want to instill in these kids. They are very simple and by the end of the season I simply hope that someday down the road they might remember at least one thing — Can I dream and hope for maybe two things? — Coach Matt taught them.
Here they are. Three things. It’s not exactly Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, but it’s the best I’ve got.
- Teamwork. The very first thing we do in our very first practice is gather in a circle and every player learns everyone’s name. We also get little details like ages, grades and where they go to school. It’s a little thing that I hope builds a bond, builds a team. The other thing we do is work on passing. I am all about passing and talk throughout the season about being unselfish. When one of my players scores a goal, I cheer loudest for the one who passed the ball. Even when the passes are unsuccessful, I let the kids know that’s exactly what I want them to do and to keep doing it. The idea is to form the idea in their head that it’s better to serve than be served. That being part of a team is more about what you can give than what you can take. I can always hope these lessons will carry over into the rest of their life, eh?
- Make a weakness a strength. We practice over and over using the weaker foot. We do drills continually where I force them to use their weaker foot. I routinely tell my players that I don’t care if they miss, but when they have the opportunity I want them to take a shot with their weaker foot. Since most of my kids predominantly use their right foot, it’s left-footed shots. I want them to learn that through practice and effort and diligence, what was once a weakness can become a strength. I’ve seen over the course of the season some kids make amazing strides in this area. And my hope is that they will carry this concept with them to school, or to their future jobs, or elsewhere: That perceived limitations can be overcome.
- Have fun. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things here with this goal, but these kids can lead complicated lives. I want their time when I am coaching at the soccer field to be the best hour of their day. We laugh, we treat other kindly, we pass to each other, we have fun. We’re going to work hard and they acquire skills, but I hope that at the end of the season they have 11 new friends and great memories. We’ve moved as a society to treating youth sports as an industry, as a means to an end of a scholarship or some other parental “goal.” Parents can be flat out lunatics about youth sports. Not on my watch. It’s a few days before the last Saturday of our season and I couldn’t tell you our team’s record right now. But when I think of my kids I think about smiling faces. That’s all that matters and I hope that’s what they think also.