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More than soccer

May 7, 2011

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.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn Cantwell permalink
    May 7, 2011 6:41 pm

    Way to go, Jon. The game is a vehicle to greater lessons and you are proving that in your coaching and care for these kids. They will remember you and what you taught them.

    Just wanted to let you know, that when you reward good behavior with something good (like a spaghetti dinner at your home) that is not bribery, it is a reward. Bribery would be giving them something bad or illicit, for behavior you desired. Just sayin’!

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