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Here's to the losers

When I started coaching soccer last year, the kids were aged four to six years old. It meant that we spent most of the time getting the kids to stay on the field, run in the right direction and stay upright. The goal for them was to run around and maybe kick the ball once as all the kids ran around together in a pack. The focus was fun and learning.

This year, I am coaching the next age level and the kids ages range from six to eight. And although that doesn't sound like a large age range, it is the difference between first and third grade, and we know that is a big difference as far as maturity, gross motor and cognitive abilities.

And now, the competition is fierce. So not used to that. I miss yelling at the kids to run the right way.

When the season began, I thought that each team would have a mix of ages and skills which would make all the teams as close to equal as possible. As the season progressed, I learned that was not the case. A couple of the teams were together the year before and have a distinct advantage.

We tied our first four games and then we lost. So not used to that. And the following week, we got annihilated. Even their goalie scored a goal. It was awful. At half-time, half my team asked me to replace our goalie because they thought it was his fault. As a former goalie, I got annoyed and told them, "you think this is his fault? If you were doing your jobs, the ball wouldn't get to him in the first place. You all own this." The boys took the field for the second half and most of them played their best.  But after the score passed 5-0, I stopped counting. One of my players who didn't play their best, confessed, "Soccer is not my favorite sport. Tennis is." Well isn't that just dandy?

At the end of the game, I pulled them all in to give them the pep talk.  As the assistant coach talked to them, I struggled to figure out what to say to inspire, teach and encourage them. What came out was something like this: "we're not the best team in the league. Many of these teams have been together for over a year and if we work hard, by this time next year, we'll be better than them." Not my best motivational speech by far. Think I missed the mark.

When you're losing, it is easy to get discouraged. With each goal, I watched their hearts sink a little lower and after the fifth goal, what can you really say besides, "yea, I know it sucks"? It was hard enough to get some of those kids on the field and do anything in the first place. And we're talking Neuro-typical here. I am their coach and I am painfully aware that I have the power to make them love or hate the game. Tread lightly.

I asked one of my massage clients, who had coached his children's youth teams for years: "How do I approach the frustration of loss when the other teams are much better than us?" He relied, "Tell them, it's not about the score. Pick three goals to work on; be it, passing, dribbling, team work, whatever. If you achieved each of the goals during the course of the game, then it was a success regardless of the score. They should be praised for their success with the goals. And remember, it needs to be fun. Tell them jokes."

I got so wrapped up in the competition that I neglected the basics.

So I made a five step program to survive the rest of the season:

Step one: Go back to the 4:1, praise for criticism ratio.
Step two: Pick three skills to focus on.
Step three: Relax, it's just a game.
Step four: Turn off competitive switch in coach.
Step five: Learn some jokes.

Maybe, I should add a sixth step: Beer after the game is absolutely necessary. 
Back to basics. I'll take that.


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