More than soccer
I coach soccer in a rec league run by an organization called Ultimate Goal Ministries. UGM targets under-resourced kids, especially refugees, in the Nashville area. It is a great opportunity for these kids who wouldn’t normally have a way of playing in a soccer league. This is the third season I have coached in the league. The first two times I coached U12 teams (kids aged 10-12) and this season I am coaching a U8 team (kids 6-8).
I will be the first to admit that I am not the best soccer coach in the world. I don’t always know the right drills to run, the right ways to motivate the kids, or the right place to play each kid in the game.
However, I do know one thing. My goal every season is to teach the kids more than just the game of soccer. If I can do that, then I count the season a success.
If you ask any of my kids they will tell you that I am always asking them questions like “Is that respectful?,” “Would you want someone to call you that?,” “How would feel if someone did that to you?,” and more.
Last season I had three burmese refugees on my team. I really loved getting to coach them, but I will be honest, they were a handful…and then some. Seriously, there were days when I just wanted to give up. It also didn’t help that I was coaching nine 12 year olds all by myself, including these three. But because of their situation I had to pick them up and take them home for every practice and game. That time, plus practices gave me a chance to really interact with them and influence the way they think and act. It wasn’t easy. At one point, midway through the season, I was so frustrated that I bribed them. I told them that if they were good and didn’t act up or ask me for anything the rest of the season then I would cook them dinner after the season was over. It worked, for the most part, and I cooked them a spaghetti dinner upon their request. I felt like we had some great conversations throughout the season and that I was able to get through to them in little ways.
This season, I was asked to coach a new team and I didn’t think the three of them were playing. Turns out they are, on a team of burmese refugees. Their coach asked for help and I went to give him some pointers with his practices and was surprised to see the three of them there. They were happy to see me and I them. Throughout practice I noticed a difference between how they carried themselves and how the other kids did. It made me smile.
This season I am coaching eight 7 year olds. Sigh. I even have three parents helping out and sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. I didn’t know kids could have that much energy. Seriously, if you could harness that energy, it might provide a good alternative to oil and it would be much better for the environment. Anyway, I digress.
I have had so many problems trying to get and keep their attention long enough to explain the next drill, how better to do something, or what I need them to do. Frustrating. A few weeks ago, I got fed up when trying to explain something and so I just stood there…and waited. One of the parents helping me coach is a teacher and she saw what I was doing and said, “he is waiting for you guys to stop and listen. He’s not going to do anything until you do.” It took 15 minutes, but I was done with letting them act that way.
After practice, I was walking to my car and one of the girls on my team came up to (having obviously had a conversation about it all with her dad) and said, “Coach, I just want to say I am sorry for not listening to you.” I said, “Apology accepted, are you going to try harder next time?” and she said, “Yes” and I said, “That is all I ask.”
Her dad then came up to me and said, “I just want to thank you for teaching them more than just soccer.”