This post is brought to you by The Shoe Company. It’s a great place to get cleats for the outdoor soccer season for your kids – and a pair for you too, Coach.
Another season of soccer is about to start. On the prairies, we play indoor over the winter and have a short outdoor season in the spring. We needed some new outdoor cleats for the growing boys and after picking up some pairs at The Shoe Company this weekend, I started to reflect on the indoor season that ended last month
“The coach assigned to our team doesn’t speak English and didn’t know what they were signing up for,” the Team Manager explained to me over the phone. “They’re asking if you’ll coach the team.”
“No problem,” came the stunned words from my mouth. And with that I was now a head coach for my son’s U10 soccer team.
I had never coached anything at any level. I hadn’t played soccer in more than 30 years and my son had only been mildly interested in it for 2 years. And yet, “No problem” came the words and there I was – head coach of 15 boys for the next 6 months.
Much like parenting, coaching my son’s team was one of the most rewarding and stressful time of my life. In the heat of the moment it was all consuming and crushing, but anytime I could take a step back from the situation all I could do was smile.
“I’m coaching my son,” I would think to myself and I’d beam at the accomplishment.
I had originally volunteered to be an assistant coach for my son’s team. Our soccer association offers rebates to those who volunteer; you can save $100 on registration by pitching in.
I had helped coach the year before, in U8, and it involved running a practice when the head coach was away, assisting him on the bench, and shagging some balls. He was a great coach, I was there to help, and the work was easy. I got to be involved without having to be in charge, and it was great.
I re-upped for the same experience this year – and then came the call.
I scrambled over to the internet and, the next day at work, I printed off about 100 pages of soccer drills. I watched YouTube videos. I grabbed everything I could find about creating drills for kids.
And then I sent out an email to the parents.
We hear so much about how hard it is to deal with parents in minor sports. From yelling at referees, to fighting in the stands, to not playing kids enough, the news is filled with stories about parents going too far.
This was, by far, my biggest fear about coaching. I wasn’t worried the kids would call my bluff at not knowing what I was doing – I was worried the parents would.
So I told the parents the situation. I explained my (lack of) experience, what I hoped to accomplish (fun first) and invited them to join in and participate at any time. If anyone felt they could do it better, they were welcome to the job. If nobody wanted to do it, I’d be happy to take on the challenge provided everyone knew I was a rookie.
It helped that our boys were in Tier D, the lowest of four divisions in their age group. Our team was made up of kids playing for the first time, those still finding their feet in the sport, and nearly 1/4 of them were on medication of some kind for issues like behaviour problems, autism, or attention deficit disorder.
A couple of dads stepped up to help at practice, and the rest of the replies were supportive, remarking at how much fun their kids were having.
We scored 3 goals all year.
Our league was the kind where they’d only put a difference of 1 goal on the scoreboard. I’d have to look at the game sheets later to know we’d lost 17-0. It crushed me. So again I reached out to the parents.
The negative stories about parents and minor sports combined with our performance ate at me. So I emailed again. There was no problem. There was never a problem. They all told me about how much fun their kids were having, how glad they were to see them enjoying themselves.
The high point of our season came at Christmas when we scored on a set play we had worked on in practice. Instead of taking a free kick directly on net, we worked on a pass around the opposing team’s wall. Our players executed it perfectly and we celebrated on the bench like we’d won the World Cup.
We lost that game 9-1.
Myself and the other coach opted out of the playoffs, not wanting to send our lambs to slaughter any more than necessary. Instead we had a parents and family vs kids game at our last practice to wrap up the season. It was the only game the Cannons would win all year. At the end of it, the Team Manager handed me a card, signed by the parents and kids.
“Thanks for your patience,” “Thanks for stepping up,” “Thanks for your hard work,” one mom even said I was “born to coach.”
I felt really badly all year for the boys. I felt like I was letting them down because no matter how much I said it was ‘fun first’ to them, inside I was worried about performance.
But it didn’t matter. They won their last game of the year and I walked away with the best trophy any parent or volunteer or coach can ever get – appreciation from your peers, your fellow parents.
And then there was the time I got to spend with my son. Isn’t that the point of coaching? To be on a team with your kid? I loved being with him yet often got lost and worried about letting everyone else down.
“I’m so glad you were my coach this year, Daddy,” he told me as we drove home after that last night. “I’m glad I was your coach too, bunny,” I beamed into the mirror catching his eyes in the backseat.
We signed up for the outdoor season that starts next month. I’ve volunteered again with the club to save some money on registration fees.
This branded content appears in exchange for a donation to Team Diabetes Canada.