Our practice schedule is shifted so that we never have soccer on two consecutive nights and it seems to have thrown off the team as only half team makes it to practice. That’s ok, as I am under the weather and the assistant coaches run practice. They do a great job and keep the team enthused. I believe I will miss a few more practices so the assistant coaches can practice their coaching skills. This time we will play three games before we practice again.
Fifth League Game
When I arrive the soccer field does not resemble a soccer field. One goal is missing in action and the other is far out of position. We eventually locate the missing goal down at the softball field and a group of dads head off to recover the wayward assembly. Work has been stressful and it takes time to shake loose the tendrils of pressure I am feeling. My mind is somewhat on the problems I left behind so I feel a little discombobulated. Some parents from the other team start to set up camp on our side and I let them know that league rules require them to be on the other side. They balk but I ask nicely and they begin the long journey across the field. They are probably great people but too often I find that coaches don’t control their parents and it bothers me; at least if they are on the other side of the field, I won’t be able to say anything to them if they misbehave during the game.
Today our shortest girl dons the goalkeeper bib for the first time in her career. We let her know that we will be proud of her no matter what; clearly we are a little worried. The game starts and she plays superbly, stopping several shots. Meanwhile, the stress from work means that I cannot sit so I pace the sideline and give the team too much tactical instruction. Our play lacks aggressiveness as each player waits for someone else to take the ball to goal. The result is that we maintain possession of the ball almost the entire half but have nothing to show for it. We end the half tied at 0-0.
At halftime, I am much more selective about changing player’s positions, since we have confused the team making too many changes in the past; however, today, in retrospect, we are too conservative. In the second half, one of our aggressive players scores three times and we sub her out for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, because I am pacing and not thinking strategically, I miss the opportunity to mix up our team chemistry a little. Sigh, these “after work” games are tough! I wonder if my boss would understand taking ½ day off before each game to relax. Meanwhile on the field, our fastest player is learning to look up and pass the ball! That alone allows me to overlook my poor management of substitutions and feel good. The game ends in our favor; but the best part is that some of the girls continue to play soccer after the game is over, a sign that they are really enjoying themselves.
Sixth League Game
The day is already hot at mid-morning and hydration is going to be important at today’s game. Several girls are late and I decide that a little discipline is needed; I them know that they are not starting because they are late. Later, I will reflect on whether this is fair but in the moment it seemed the right thing to do. One of our players is recovering from a muscle strain suffered at school and we start her in goal. The game is refereed by another of our competitive soccer teenagers and she does a great job. We have a pre-game discussion with the girls about the attacking 1/3 of the field and the need for “action,” they seem to understand. The first half they dominate possession but find the goal box crowded; we need to work more on shooting technique to allow more outside shots. Still, we have several quality shots on goal but the first half ends 0-0.
After a brief talk in the shade, as the girls eat their orange slices, I announce the second half starting positions. After the girls take the field the Referee informs me we are short a player; one of our players fails to take the field as she is playing with “guests” on the sideline. I punish her by letting her know that she has lost her starting spot for “not paying attention” to the game. Even as I am saying it, I am thinking that I am an idiot and should remember that that not everyone lives for soccer. Nonetheless, she sits and another player starts in her spot. The girl that lost her spot is also one of the girls who were late to the field; I will reflect on this later and decide that I was wrong…again! She did not drive herself to the field and it is not her fault that she was late. At the start of the second half, I should have noticed that she didn’t take the field and motivated her to play. Instead, I have probably added a negative token to her feelings about soccer.
The second half is exciting as we christen another new goalkeeper and at the other end of the field, one of our players takes the “action 1/3” to heart, scoring her first goal and very nearly a second! The passing is crisp and the game ends in our favor.
Seventh League Game
Another post work game but I am prepared with a new pre-game shooting drill to improve our outside shots. Today we tell the girls we giving them a checklist of positive things we have observed them doing during games with the instruction to try to get as many things checked off as possible in the last 6 games! It is positive reinforcement for what they have done and feedback for what to work on without creating a “grade,” either we have seen the girl use a top and turn during a game or we haven’t. We notice that during the game there were many more moves used as they try to get all their moves in.
We still have 3 girls that have not yet played goalkeeper during a game so today we will use two new keepers. The referee is not helpful when he tells me that the keepers will have 5 seconds to get rid of the ball. I remind him that the rules state 6 seconds, but also tell him not to worry about it as long as it applied equally. The first half starts and we are applying constant pressure to the other team. I am worrying because we are developing some sloppy habits along the back line and I know we will give up some counterattack goals when we play better teams. One of those counterattacks results in our goalie touching the ball for the first time and she is, well, skipping up to edge of the 18 to throw the ball. Whistle. We have violated the dreaded 5 or 6 seconds rule and the other team gets to shoot at our goal. The referee interferes with my instruction to make a wall (“Coach, it’s indirect.”) so they take a kick on goal that our goalie catches. I find myself forced to yell for the goalie to throw it quickly lest we get another foul call. I must say that this tight enforcement of goalie rules does nothing but raise my blood pressure. Meanwhile, we are playing a great game with lots of soccer moves and one of our forwards scores her first ever goal before halftime.
At halftime the referee interrupts my time with the team to ask me to show him where to find the 6 second rule since he has searched the book and can’t find it; I open to the exact page and point it out; he shuffles back to the other side. We will now get 6 seconds in the second half; unfortunately, it still isn’t enough as another one of our new goalies gets called for excessive time. This time we make a wall and block the shot. Whew! The second half features lots of shots but no goals and we make a mental note to have some serious shooting practice! Amazing enough the girls win again.