December 20, 2011
Coaching Without a Clue:Any One Can Do It by Alex Shumway
Coaching youth soccer doesn't take knowledge of the sport in order to achieve the biggest goal: having fun. Let’s get one thing straight: I am NOT a soccer player. Save for two games in college playing on an intramural dorm team, I barely know the rules. My oldest son, however, IS one. He has some mad skills on the field – skills that he in no way inherited from me – and I am always in awe of how he handles the ball and understands exactly where to put it. I have watched him from the tender age of 5 (where a pack of six kids would follow a ball around a tiny field) to the present day, where he plays in two leagues, and I remain in awe of just how much game he has. Let me state again: I am NOT a soccer player.
Last fall, however, my daughter insisted that since Daddy had coached Ben, it was my duty to coach her kindergarten team. I asked my friend Christine, a veteran player and coach to both her son and daughter, if I had the chops. She assured me that, “with the 5-year-olds, there’s very little coaching and rules following – it’s mostly hugs and support.” So I gave in. I must tell you, it was awesome. I was lucky enough to have an “assistant coach,” who is not only a friend, a fellow kindergarten dad and (cue Hallelujah Chorus) a soccer coach at Roxbury Latin. Yes, it’s nuts that coach Pete was technically my assistant, but as luck would have it, I happened to sign up first.
I will never forget my first practice: I was petrified that these eight little girls would see through my facade and know that I was clueless. I mean, I had 4 years of watching the game from the sidelines, but I wasn’t sure of how to coach. My first order of business was to find a name for our team. We had been given yellow shirts so I thought that we should play off of the color: I suggested “The Lady Lemons” and “The Golden Bananas.” While thinking that I had missed my chance at an award winning-copywriting career, one of my 5-year old girls squealed, “The Dedham Golden Soccer Players!” As I was about to again suggest one of my million dollar mascot ideas, the girls all “oooooohed!” and the name was set. I spent many practices riding on the shoulders of coach Pete. Occasionally I had to go it alone, so I asked the Nobles girls soccer coach to suggest a few drills. We practiced agility while doing toe-touches with the ball. We ran give-and-go’s (thank you, high school lacrosse career) and dribbling around cones. We even took shots on goal while my 9-year old played a very lazy keeper. It was a group effort.
I loved those games. It took a while to figure out a system for who would sub in and when but by game four, we got it. During the first game, my voice went hoarse because I spent the whole time yelling, “No, kick it THAT way,” “Don’t pick each other up,” and “Girls, stop skipping, RUN!” By the end, my little Golden Soccer players were starting to move the ball down the field and had found their groove.
We didn’t win every game – far from it! – but by the end of the season, my girls had progressed. They had learned how to play as a team, to shrug off each goal scored against them and when to celebrate a great play. Although we really didn’t keep score (three-on-three with no goalie is not the most competitive atmosphere), the kids had a ball. The smiles on their faces warmed my heart. After our last game, I brought the team into one final huddle. Looking into those eight little sets of eyes, I had to choke back tears as I told them how proud I was! My little Golden Soccer players had shown me that sometimes, it’s not necessarily your throw-in technique or a stellar defense that matters most. It’s the spirit and the fun that they have while playing as a team that makes for a winning season.