|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.
- 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.