My youngest daughter, Chloe, has been bugging me for years to coach her house league soccer team. I remember how cool it was when my dad coached me at soccer as a kid, so I finally stepped up this spring and volunteered, having no real idea of what the heck I was getting myself into — or the learning curve involved.
One of my biggest fears, other than the time involved, was: You take an ultra-competitive guy who played all-star soccer growing up and put him in charge of a bunch of nine-year-old girls at different skill levels and you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
My wife has been like, “Well, you’re not here to teach them how to win; you’re here to let them have fun, exercise, develop some skills.” But I’m like, “I know it’s house league, but, well, I just hate losing. At anything. Period. How can I just turn off my competitive nature? Let’s bend it like Beckham!!”
Somehow, I have tried to repress that competitive side.
I do my best to be fair with all the girls. I divvy up playing time and allow them to try different positions and develop at their own pace. If a more skilled forward scores a goal, I will (while biting my tongue) sometimes move them back to midfield or defence or sub them out just to prove it’s not all about winning.
I have also learned to navigate other coaching duties: What parents bring snacks each week, huge storms that blow in out of nowhere where you have to yell at the teenage referee “Stop the game early! Pull the kids off the field!!,” and the delicate balance of coaching your daughter and not playing favouritism.
The ultimate goal, I’m learning, about coaching at this level is to empower these girls. To encourage and instill confidence in them at this vital lifestage, while also just letting them have fun. If we happen to win the game, too, that’s gravy. (That said, if we’re up 2-1 with minutes to go, I might put my best defenders back there, but shhhhh.)
My daughter loves that daddy is the coach. And daddy pretty much loves doing it, though there are moments after a long work day where he would rather just kick back than gather all the soccer balls and game sheets and water bottles and drive to a soccer field to coach on a sweltering summer evening.
The long and the short is this: To the thousands of dads and moms across Canada who volunteer their time each week coaching teams — I’m starting to get it now. You guys are awesome. See you at indoor soccer.