After raising 5 children, 3 of them played soccer, and very well, I might add. I started coaching a boy’s team with my youngest son (Jay). My youngest daughter had already retired at 14 due to health and injury reasons.
How well I remember the fights and arguments to get him to go to practice 4 nights a week. By the time he was 15, it was like pulling teeth to get him up on Saturday mornings to meet the team on time to caravan to the city that had the honor of having us and other teams invade their hometown. And with 17 rambunctious boys, I mean, invade.
After that season, he sat me down and had a heart-to-heart with me. No more –he was done. He was tired and sore. Sadly on my part, I continued to “nag’ him about commitment. Jay decided to play winter league soccer only. Okay, I can hang with this.
In the meantime, we had a beautiful young grandson (Nick) that we were blessed with and traveled everywhere we went. Nick had become the mascot of the team. Spectators and players on other teams would watch the 2-year-old warm up with the team, pass the ball, and shoot on goal with the team. He had become their little brother and taught him everything they knew.
After 3 years, he was finally old enough to play in our league. Well, the boys had taught him too well . Unfortunately, he was as good as a 9-year-old by then. We forged on, and we had FUN. Watching him and the little ones run and laugh was a joy.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t about did we win? It was where are the snacks? I had learned my lesson! Well, or at least I thought I had. My question after every game was, “Did you have fun?”
All this time, his coach, whom he had been with for most of his short career, and I had our eyes on a few boys in the league and couldn’t wait for them to reach the crucial age of 9. Our district has winter leagues for U-10s and above for added soccer experience. That is every Saturday, 2 games a day for 6 weeks.
I must say I loved this time of the season. My grandson would come home after the games, shower, eat, and promptly fall asleep. Tired and worn out at 9 years old.
I had been saving money specifically for his debut in competitive soccer. Imagine my surprise while I was on a trip out of town. He calls me and explains he is not going to play anymore!
Apparently, I had not learned my lesson, as I was upset. When I returned home, we sat down and discussed why. At the urging of my spouse, I just listened. And believe me, that was hard. He is not a soccer fanatic as I am. That said, I could not ask for a more supportive spouse in everything related to the sport we all love.
As I sat and listened to Nick, I realized I had been pushing him to do this for 6-7 years. Shame on me! All the practices and 2 games a day were too much for him. He wanted to be able to participate in other activities and was not able to.
For instance, he wanted to do Karate, but it was on a soccer night. He wanted to do Be Bop dance, but once again, the classes were on soccer nights. But the final stab for me was by the time the 2nd game had started, he was tired and had enough soccer for the day. Okay, I backed off.
Tryouts came, and in our district, the decision was made that there would be only 1 game a day except for tournaments. The next day after that decision, there was uproar from coaches throughout the district. At that point, I realized that the coaches wanted 2 games a day, not the children.
At the end of tryouts, some of Nick’s teammates asked him where he was, and he explained that he would only play recreation for a while. After school that day, he came home and told me about it.
I then told him that the district had decided to play only 1 game a day. He looked at me and asked me if that was really true. I then explained that it would be one game during district play, but for tournaments, it would still be 2. He asked me how often there were tournaments, and I told him 1 weekend a month. He seemed very thoughtful, and I dropped it.
The following weekend we had recreation soccer signups. His coach was there helping with the registrations, and my grandson approached him. He asked, “Coach, do you still have room on the team?” After a tryout, Nick was on the team.
I asked him why he changed his mind, and he responded, “One game a day does not tire me out or make me as sore in my legs.” Darn, we had forgotten he was still growing, and those little legs hurt him. We also had forgotten to LISTEN to him. Well, I didn’t learn my lesson with my older children. But I have learned my lesson with my grandson.
The game is not about me as a coach and what I want. It is about the health and well-being of the children.
A soccer player that is good is still going to be good no matter what. And think of how good they will be when they can give all their time and energy to just a few games a year and not hundreds.
I will not allow my grandson to burn out, be injured, or thoroughly dislike this wonderful sport just because of the egos of the adults.
We Need to LISTEN to the children/players.
We need to give all we can to them, and if we can’t do it at a moderate pace and with their well-being in mind, we have no business teaching and molding these fine young people.
Unfortunately, injuries can be forever, but so can the love of the game — And that is what we should strive …
Always wonderful to hear more about positive/supportive coaching… Stress this on all levels!
Coach John Curtis