Friday, July 13, 2007

Why I Coach, Part I

Dear Anson,

I coach two youth teams. I have an Under-13 team and an Under-18 team, both girls. I thoroughly enjoy coaching these girls. I have had the Under-18 team for four years, since they were U15, and it's been pretty much the same roster the whole time. I have watched them grow as players and as people. And that alone is satisfying.

We've had great moments together that we all will remember for a long time, and it's kind of nice to be a part of their lives in that way.

Coaching can be extremely frustrating and time-consuming. Yet it also can be incredibly satisfying and rewarding. The rewarding parts are what I choose to remember, so here is the first part of the Why I Coach Series.

So I have this girl. She missed the entire 2005 season with an ACL tear, but she worked very hard and came back in 2006. She is probably the least skilled player on the team and missing a year set her back. But she makes up for it with heart and fitness. She plays centerback in a four-back and reads the game well enough to disrupt attacks.

In our 2006 State Cup, our first game was against the eventual champions, a game I knew we would need a miracle to win. But with 10 minutes left, we were down 2-1, a result I would have been thrilled to get.

The last 10 minutes, however, were hell. They went up 3-1 on a great header off a corner. They were pounding us and made it 4-1 before it was all said and done. We were barely hanging on defensively, but we also got a few chances. My girl, the centerback, was phenomenal. She was also playing on a bad ankle, though, and when she went in for a tackle, it twisted. It was near midfield, not far from me.

She got up on her own but had to come out of the game. As she bravely limped toward me on the sideline, the coach of the other team -- a class act by the way --said, "Great game 12!" With eyes staring at the ground, she thanked the other coach.

So here she comes. A proud, fit athlete, who just went to war for 85 minutes to help her friends reach their goal of winning the State Cup. What do you say to her? Is there anything that can be said? I wanted her to know I was proud of her, but didn't want to sound insincere. We were, after all, on the wrong end of a 4-1 score now. I greeted my player with no words, just outstretched arms. She sunk her head in my chest and started sobbing.

I don't think I can forget that. There was nothing more that this girl could have given that day, short of passing out on the field. When her day was done and she realized it didn't go her way, she broke down. And I feel fortunate to have been able to provide the shoulder to cry on.

Often people in sports say, "They gave it everything they had," and they don't really know what that means.

I do.

When I think of more, I'll write

You know who

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