I was nervous heading into soccer season. The boys didn’t play any sports at all last year. We had just moved to town and I wanted to take a year to settle in before giving up our free weekends. This year, I decided Wyatt and Duncan would both play, and that Aaron and I would coach their teams: U10 boys for Wyatt, U6 coed for Duncan. For an assistant professor entering his second year, the tenure clock ticking away, this was a big commitment for Aaron to make. He didn’t exactly say “no”, but he expressed his concerns about needing to be present to coach at every game and practice all season long. I talked him into it: “Come on, it’ll be fun, the kids will love it!” I said. “It’s good family time. Besides, it’s only three hours a week…”
Then, as summer break ended and soccer season began, I wondered if I had made an error of judgment. There was just a lot more administrative stuff to handle than I had anticipated, some of it starting months before the season began, and the time commitment was definitely higher than three hours a week. I had failed to include in my estimate: planning, set up and clean up for each practice and game; driving time; warmup on game days; Aaron having to leave work early on practice days; and managing team communications with parents. Most weeks, it’s more like a five-hour commitment and since Aaron and I are both coaching, we are participating in this as a family, bringing all the kids along for all of it (Milo, age 3, has gotten a lot of practice playing in the dirt by himself on the sidelines). And just as I feared, every weekend we are turning down invitations to birthday parties, camping trips, local events, school events, etc.
However, here is what I had forgotten: I love coaching. I love it. I love being on the field with the kids, watching them improve every week; I love when Aaron and I scrimmage with them in practice, trying to lead by example how to hustle and play hard, while having fun and demonstrating good sportsmanship. There is nothing better than seeing those glimpses of “real soccer” with these young players; even our teeny tiny kindergartners have moments– a nice touch on the ball, a pass, a tackle, a shot– worthy of a player of any level.
A few Sundays ago, our U10 team was getting creamed by a much stronger team. We ended up losing that game 1-8, but I was on cloud nine the entire afternoon because there were some moments that just made it all more than worth it. Our goalies that day, both of whom are brand new to the position, got hammered with shots throughout the game, but these kids made one beautiful, brave save after the next, my heart in my throat each time the ball came hurtling toward them. At one point, Wyatt, who is one of the smallest kids on the team and is usually pretty lackadaisical on the field, suddenly burst into action and carried the ball from the half-line to the eighteen– I’ve never seen him persist like that and I was jumping up and down and cheering at the top of my lungs. The best moment of the game for me was our one goal. In warmup, we had been practicing pulling the ball back to change direction and evade a defender. One our wings put this new skill into action on the field, got a nice shot off, but missed the goal by a foot.
“That’s just what I want you to do! Just like that!” I shouted, hopefully before he had time to get down on himself about the missed shot. “Get back out there and do it again! Just. Like. That!”
And he did. And he scored. And that moment made the game a win for me. I was fired up. After the game, a parent from the other team came over to talk to me.
“I wish you had been my coach,” he said. “You are so enthusiastic and positive, it made me want to get out there and play!” Maybe it’s easier to be magnanimous when your kid’s team just won, but I don’t know, it was still nice to hear.
In our U6 game last week, one player was out of sorts because I had separated her from her friend. Their friendship had been distracting them from actually playing the game. When you’re playing 3v3 it really doesn’t work to have two of your players holding hands and standing, giggling inside the goal. So I split them up. (For the U6 games in this league, coaches split their teams into groups of three or four players and have them play on short fields with small goals and no goalies.) This kid was already upset to be separated from her friend and then she got kind of jostled while going for the ball and just walked off the field in tears. Her parents comforted her and sent her back out. She was still crying when she managed to intercept a pass from the other team, carry the ball down the field, and score. She stopped crying after that. And then she scored two more goals. After the game, I said to her, “Look at that! You wanted to quit. You were crying. You were frustrated. But you came back out and played hard and see what fun you had!”
These are the moments that make coaching so rewarding. We’ve got six weeks left in the season and I’m already thinking about next year.