Coaching. My first-born asked me to go to watch her coach her under-11 girls soccer team at a tournament this weekend. As she said, it’s not often that all of the team is being watched by their parents. I thought about the many years that I had coached and what it had given me and those whom I had tried to coach. Fun. Laughter. Tears. Strain. Stress. Disappointment. Elation. Hope. Surprise. Pleasure. Many more emotional moments, high and low. Friends.
I watched from a distance as my first-born talked to her charges, hands moving to show what she meant. The girls gave her their intense attention. The match got underway, and I could hear the coaches urging on their teams: no shrillness in their voices; no harshness in their comments. It’s not always that way. I listened to the parents as they watched the match. I had not identified myself and none of them knew me, so it was even more interesting to hear what if anything they said about the coach. I heard only one comment, and it was not about her, but about a situation that she was in during the match–no more need be said. The game ended and the teams shook hands with each other and the officials. My daughter’s team sat in front of her, stretching, and having their after-match team talk. She’d introduced me to her team before the game as ‘her former coach’. That was cute.
We headed off to a late morning breakfast. She asked me for my thoughts. She wanted to know if she’d talked too much, saying that she was trying to do less of that. I noted that if the team expects to hear her voice, then being quieter could be counter-productive. We talked about different players and what the team seemed to need to get to a higher level. “Forget about the scores. Ask yourself how they played. What was their sense of what they were doing?” I suggested.
I jotted down notes. Single words that fitted what I had seen.
Volume. Intensity. Talent. Developing. Directing. Hoping. Aspiring. Watching. Caring. Mentoring. Coaxing. Telling. Communicating. Friendliness.
We took our time over breakfast and then went to run a few errands. Then, we went to watch some other teams play. I met a third grader whom I had coached at soccer a couple of years ago. She sported proudly her travel team uniform. I asked her if she remembered me. She said yes, confidently. I spoke to her mother. We exchange a few stories. I took a ball and we played a little keep-away. She went off to juggle on her own. I called her back and we did some exercises with the ball, controlling and kicking it as I threw it to her, using both feet. “Challenge yourself,” I told her. “Challenge your mum to do it, too.” Her mum laughed and said “I can’t do that!” Then she added “Not a good example, eh?” We smiled. The messages have to be ‘try’, ‘yes, you can’, ‘don’t give up’, ‘failure is not an option’ our exchange of glances communicated.
The girls we watched were also under-11, but of a higher level of accomplishment compared to my first-born’s team. They showed faster reactions, stronger running, better communication, more confidence, quicker feet, better decisions. All these things were tied together. The differences were not huge but you could see the differences. Could my daughter’s team watch and learn? Did they care to try? What did they or their parents have as their objectives?
At the end of the match, which the girls won, they came over to talk to one of the women on the sidelines, with whom we had also been talking. She was an ‘executive committee’ member, responsible for the soccer program development. They girls cheerily and respectfully came to introduce themselves, all smiles and politeness. We told them how we had liked their self-confidence, composure, hard work and graciousness. They were thankful.
Lots of lessons, big and small. Some were paid to do a job, others did a job without pay.