Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Soccer

I coach my daughter's U6 soccer team.  The kids named us Orange Juice, because we have orange shirts.  We almost called ourselves the Orange Hats, but the funnier Orange Juice voted down Orange Hats by a vote total of 7 to 4. 

To feel my role as coach, imagine herding a bunch of insane leprechauns trying either to get the same pot of gold or to throw pulled-up grass at each other.  That pretty much describes it.  True enough, there are a number of 5 year-olds that grasp the concept of "small touches" on the ball to keep the ball in front of them, and there are even some kids who understand that getting in front of someone slows that person down.  The rest of the kids just run around and behave like 5 year-olds. 

The other day, I saw a parent on the sideline.  I already knew 5 of the families from last season; this parent is not one of the veterans of Orange Juice.  I asked her how her son was enjoying the U6 experience.  She replied that he loved it, but that she was trying to get him to be on the ball more.  I told her that he was doing great, if only because he's having fun.  It also happens to be true that he might be the best soccer player on our team, but that's not really all that important.

There's a part of all of us that wants our kids to do well at everything they do.  We want our kids to try hard; we know that practice makes better, if not perfect.  For kids, though, there are no failed athletic stints or knowledge of past semi-serious efforts that might have borne athletic scholarship fruit "if only."  For many kids, especially younger kids, trying hard means doing well.  Further, the goal is to have fun - why else would one play a sport or do anything, really?  Boring sucks.

If we can remove ourselves from the equation, and just let our kids have fun, the whole experience becomes better.  There is no "parents versus child" dynamic, no struggle for control.  The kids participate at the level they're at, and as long as no one is hitting anyone else with a baseball bat, or flicking snot at anyone else, everything is fine.

Last season, a parent walked up to my wife and told her that her daughter was having a great time with soccer.  During the game, her daughter, a child with some special needs, had run very hard to where the other kids were clustered around the ball, and started jumping up and down.  We coaches yelled, "Great job, Melinda!  Nice run!"  Her mother, apparently, had been about to say, "Melinda, kick the ball!  Don't just stand there!"  However, she realized that her daughter's goal is to run hard and jump up and down.

Should high school athletes have a similar goal?  Clearly, the answer is no.  How about 10 year-olds?  8 year-olds?  I think how you address practice and game habits depends on your children's interests, but always cheer them on.  If they feel bad about what they do, it won't matter if they're PelĂ© or if they like peeling oranges.  They'll quit.

3 comments:

  1. Brian-
    I'm coaching this year too and, except for the 8:30 games, I'm really enjoying it. Partly that's because it's my first opportunity to participate in something with my daughter and she's LOVING it which is just fun to watch.
    One interesting concept we had to practice with the girls on the first day was "not sharing." They were great about kicking the ball but then stepped back and let the other team have a turn. The other team, who had a roster full of girls with older, soccer-playing sisters, drove the ball down the field and into the net - EVERY SINGLE TIME.
    The second concept we had to teach them was physical aggression - not pushing and shoving and bad sportsmanship but bumping and kicking - even in close proximity. My job is teaching them to be aggressive on the field, good sports off the field with a little mix of soccer thrown in.
    Next week we'll talk about what I've learned! ;)

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  2. Our town uses the Mass Youth soccer curriculum. I loved it during Peewee and it has been pretty useful for U6 as well.

    http://www.mayouthsoccer.org/ - go to the soccer Library section.

    Looking forward to see how things went! Claire definitely loves me as her coach, and was not happy when I had to miss the games last week.

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  3. I've coached or assistant-coached my kids (now just son, as my daughter didn't like the competition) from age 4 or so up to present (11). U6 is definitely just a cluster of kids running around the ball. U8 is when you start teaching skills like passing and shooting, U10 really begins to get into positions and strategy, and now that he's playing 11-on-11 on the big field, it's definitely more about the competition. Thankfully, it's not insanely competitive, but it's getting there.

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