I was in Pennsylvania this weekend for a tournament in a place called Lititz. Besides seeing my first horse and buggy live, driving past a volleyball tournament with people in full on colorful Amish get-up, and finding the cutest cafe that I was obsessed with all weekend (Cafe Chocolate on the Main Street), I managed to squeeze in coaching some soccer.
Namely, my U10’s, who are the most precious people on planet Earth.
While I could talk about various topics including coaching philosophies that I’ve learned through coaching this group, how much casts suck to wear in 90 degree weather (only 1.5 weeks to go in my complaining I promise!), and how I think youth soccer tournaments is like flies to honey, in terms of dragging the most crazy people out of the woodwork (there has to be a reality TV show in there somewhere), I’d like to talk about what I think is so special about being a coach.
For the first time this weekend, and what pumps me up so much, is that I can see that through coaching, you can really affect change. I mean I’ve always believed it, but this weekend, I really started to see it.
And for someone that lives and dies by idealism, this warms my heart far more than any amount of trophies that the kids will win (they won the tournament by the way #humblebrag).
We all bring our baggage of life into coaching (or maybe you don’t, but I do). I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach, around eighth grade, when I had stifling social anxiety combined with being the only kid on my team that went to the Catholic school (toss in a dash of total naivety on life with braces and it was just a bad scene all around), and two things stand out to me in my memory of that time.
1) How I hated when the coach told us to get partners because I was always the one that didn’t have one and
2) How much I hated going on away trips because again the anxiety that came with not being in a group and living with the fear of being outed of having no real friends on the team
Because of this, I am over aware as a coach, and as part of our program, to make it be a spot where everyone is included and that there is a sense of community to make sure that everyone that is a part of it feels like it’s a place that they want to be. I also hope that its a value where our kids take that awareness to be kind in their classrooms and other sports, and are the leaders to make the little worlds around them better and kinder.
Yes I care about making them killer little soccer players, but imparting these values is even more important to me.
Which made this weekend stand out to me for a few reasons. The kids played well, and the performance they put on the field made me proud (as a group that regularly got our asses kicked 2 years ago because we insisted on playing possession soccer, seeing the fruits of those losses and labors is even sweeter) but these were the highlights for me:
We have post game breakdowns of the game. Besides tactically analyzing the game better than I did when I was in college (I wish I could say I am being hyperbolic but I’m not), they were so nice to each other and everyone else around them this weekend. Well they usually are pretty sweet, but it really stood out to me the whole weekend.
These examples are just a small sample of their kindness and how they made their little worlds and those that touched theirs, even better.
1) The coach of the other team came over to give the girls patches. The little guys (genuinely) said to this woman things like, “Thank you so much for the patches” “I love your hair.” “You are so pretty.” As a women’s studies major, I know we could talk gender stereotypes and the merits of a woman getting her value in this way, but I’ll stick to this. This woman, walked away from them with the biggest smile on her face like she had just won the lottery.
2) One of the quieter kids on the team stuck her hand up during our post game analysis, and I was excited to hear what she had to say. “I just wanted to say that I thought Hanah did a fantastic job as a defender today.” That was it. The end.
Hanah tried to suppress her smile while at the same time looked like she had just galloped over the moon. It was cute.
3) One of the kids got hurt during the final, and had to come out, and was sitting on a chair on the ground icing her ankle (with tears still streaming down her face) when we did the half time speech. She was a little off to the side. The kids went in to do the cheer to start the second half, and one of the kids said, let’s get Sophia in the huddle to cheer, so they went over to her, kneeled down so they were at her level and included her, and then went out to the game. Sophia spent the whole second half beaming.
Coach Ciara might have gotten a little tear in her eye.
What struck me being at the tournament this weekend and watching so many parents and coaches strutting up and down the sidelines, and screaming with the intensity that it was the World Cup, is how much we lose in being so focused on the outcome of things. Sure the score matters, and it’s nice to win things, but the true opportunity in coaching, and something that really struck me as a reality as opposed to an idea, for the first time this weekend, is the opportunity to really affect positive change, using soccer as a platform.
I know that while we’ve taught these kids of ours, good soccer, more importantly the pride I take from this weekend is that we’ve used the time and opportunity well to make them into good people. That being said, I think we can give their parents the majority of the credit for that, but I feel like we have done our small little part.
And what I love about the little people is how pure and genuine they are in the things that they do and say.
What makes me feel amazing after this weekend is that I know the positive impact that they are making goes into the classroom and in their lives, long after they’ve left our training sessions. And maybe in our own little way that’s how we are doing our part in making the world a better place.