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That Coach

I started coaching #3's, soccer team last year.  The decision was easy to make because two years ago, I signed #1 & #2 up for soccer and we were stuck with a coach who's eye was focused on winning and basically ignored my kids. I spent the entire season feeling like an annexed coach with my two players.   Because #3 has PDD/NOS/ODD, I decided that being coach was absolutely necessary. That was not going to happen again, so here I am, the only female coach in the boys soccer league. When I was kid, I played soccer all through high school, so I know the game and love it a little more than I remember.

When I coached the team last year, some of the players were barely four and they played right along with the five and six-year-olds. For most of them, it was their first time ever playing an organized sport. Most of our time was spent making sure the kids ran in the right direction and stayed on their feet.  We played six on six and no goalie. It was fun for them and funny for us. By the end of the season, everyone had improved dramatically, including #3.

When soccer season began again and #3 wanted to play, this time without the bribes, I continued to coach. We moved up to the next age group but I didn't anticipate the shift from teaching soccer to competition. I always treated games as a chance for both teams to learn and be coached by both sets of coaches. This year the kids are six and seven years old. Out of the ten kids I have on the team, maybe three have that athletic ability. The rest run around, not sure what to do, checking out the grass, dirt, bug, sky, cloud formations and each other. #3 is in that category. Most of my time coaching is spent trying to keep them on task and on their feet. And we're talking my kid plus nine neuro-typical kids.

The first three games, I talked to the opposing coach and we set up the parameters; sub at seven minutes, water break at 10. Two 15 minute halves, whatever. The teams were like mine, random good players thrown in  with a myriad of skill levels complete with a laid-back coach who laughed and didn't think twice about using any stop in play as an opportunity to teach the kids about field placement or strategy.

And then I met the green team and their aggressive coach. We all know the ones that bark out orders to the team, run it like a tight ship and push through the games until the job is done. First off, the coach approached one of the dads to discuss game matters and then he sent him my way. Yes, the chick is in charge. See my whistle? Now, I'm not a small person, I'm 5'8", but this coach towered over me. He was easily 6'3" and it was apparent his eye was on the prize. As soon as the whistle blew, their team came at us fast. Coach big green was pushing his team to take throw-ins as soon as they got the ball while my team was mulling around not noticing that the ball was back in play. I did ask him if we could blow the whistle at each throw-in so the teams would know that the ball was going back into play, but he didn't agree to it. I do realize that in real soccer, that is not done, but they are little and half of them were meandering around the field. Minute by minute, I found myself more wrapped up in game play to get my guys through the game, rather than using the plays to teach, and I didn't like it. What were they going to take away from that game experience?

I did manage to praise every goalie save, each rally and each missed goal, but the joy of the game, while I was in the game, was gone. I was so wrapped in keeping my team plugged-in and moving in the right direction that the game ended and I had missed the fun.

In the end, once we shifted a few players around, we dominated the second half and the game ended in a no-score tie.  Maybe, my coaching tactic was working better than his; lots of praise and no negativity, "this time you did this, next time let's try that. You did great today!" But, maybe I do need to push the boys a little harder and make the game a bit more efficient.  I believe that if you take the time to teach them teamwork and field position, the speed and cooperation will come. There are some situations that only come up during game play and the moment to teach them is after the play is done. When the kids are this small, and we're trying to teach them to like the game, play the game properly and prepare them for the more competitive age groups, we need to take the time to lay the foundation. This is not the age to rush, it is the time to teach.

I was complimented by a mom from the other team. She said, "I think it is really awesome that you are coach." Thanks!  My friend Becky told me that the league needed me and I just shrugged it off. But after that mom's comment, I thought about it, and I guess if I were on the sidelines watching me coach, I'd see a coach that treats all her players as her own and teaches her players to be the best players that they can be. Will that win games? Not so sure. Will it teach them to believe in themselves and love the game? Hopefully. But the Magic 8 Ball says, "it is decidedly so."

Note to Coach big green: You're going down.

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