Kickin’ it on the Soccer Field: Tips from a Hapless Coach

After three years and six seasons of coaching Georgia’s soccer team, I have decided to hang up my clipboard and whistle and call it a day.

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Alright, sure, I never actually owned either – and my soccer skills are lacking to say the least (never having actually played makes it hard on that front) – but I have definitely picked up a few things along the way. A friend told me a while back that when the girls are little, you don’t need to know much more than which way to kick the ball and how to hug them when they fall down (which is a lot).  Now that they are older however, I am quite sure that most of them are on to me; any time I’m asked to “demonstrate” something, I divert their attention with funny story or explain that I just got a pedicure and can’t possibly be kicking balls around.  While I seem to have gotten away with it by the skin of my teeth, I credit a few things I’ve learned and would like to impart my wisdom on other future inexperienced-but-backed-into-a-corner-by-their-child-to-coach soccer coaches.  By following these five easy tips, you too can become a 8-and-under coaching phenom!

  1. Picking the Team Name – the first practice is always terrifying.  “Will they listen to me?  Will they ever score a goal?  How the hell am I going to fill an entire hour of soccer practice?”  A good/hack coach can stretch this little exercise to eat up at least 30 minutes.  Begin with the shirt color (little kids need a starting point) and work from there.  We’ve been “The Golden Soccer Players,” the “Purple People Eaters,” and my personal favorite, “The Silver Bullets.”  Nothing like telling people your team of 6-year old girls is named after a beer.
  2. IMG_0099The “Assistant” Coach – this can mean the difference between a leading a skilled and confident team and trying to organize a pack of wild monkeys.  Although I’ve always been the “Head” Coach (which at this level simply means I’m on the league email list and have to bring the soccer balls to practice), I’ve never been without an Assistant  who actually knows what he’s doing.  It’s because of my seconds-in-command that my girls knew how to do throw-ins, corner kicks and pull-back turns.  It’s because of me that the balls were always fully inflated.
  3. Ice packs – when your girls fall to the ground writhing in pain because they took a stray ball to the face or tripped over their untied cleats, make sure to have copious amounts of ice packs in the soccer bag.  Nothing makes an “injured” soccer player feel better than being able to grab that white pack, punch it until the stuff inside breaks and mixes to get cold.  Like a toddler with a Band-Aid (“my belly hooots, I need a Band-Aiiiiid!”), the allure of the ice pack can cure any ailment.  Next time I have an angry client, I might consider pulling one out of my bag to see if it solves the problem.  “Sorry your expensive ad campaign didn’t work, but…ice pack?”
  4. A drill is drill is a drill – IMG_0093alright, my soccer knowledge is limited to one college intramural game (they needed an extra body) and many years of watching from the sideline, but I did play four years of High School lacrosse and so therefore I used what I had in my arsenal.  On the few occasions when I was coaching alone, my girls basically played lacrosse without sticks.  Shout out to Wayland High’s Coach Nelson, the Purple People Eaters often played her game.  And three years in, I still have to stop myself from calling the offense “the attack.”  Old habits die hard.
  5. Give good hugs – Schmaltz alert: I am really going to miss my team.  What I lack in actual knowledge of the game, I make up for with high fives, cheers and bear hugs.  The way I see it, I haven’t earned the right to be too authoritative when it comes to skills so I need to rely on positive reinforcement.  It seemed to work (I think we won a lot…I’ll admit, I’m not really sure of our record) and I saw more smiles than tears.  A winning season in my book.

And so, while I’m somewhat relieved to let go of my coaching duties, I’ll miss my kids greatly.  Having spent three years with them and watching them go from little girls who skipped (the wrong way) on the field to great players who passed the ball and played as a team, they’ve become a big part of my life.  And even if I didn’t teach them much more than how to break an ice pack, what they gave me is something that I’ll never forget.

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