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

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Drew Carey, Glenn Myernick and Anson Dorrance

Dear Bob,

I'm sure you have heard about Drew Carey's challenge to face some U.S. National Team players in a video game that I don't play. You can read about it here.

It got me thinking of the one and only Glenn Myernick story I have. At an NSCAA Symposium, in Richmond, I think, Anson Dorrance spoke followed by Myernick. Dorrance told a story about a player he had. She was a senior and he was unable to get her into the championship match that year. He felt horrible, because this fine young woman -- Amy Roberts -- had been a significant part of the team, a true leader. On the plane ride home, Roberts passed Dorrance a note telling her coach that she understood why she didn't play, and that playing four years at Carolina was a thrill. She went on to thank him for opportunity.

Dorrance closed his presentation with that story. Then Myernick got up to speak to the rooom full of coaches.

"I had a similiar situation with a player once when I was coaching the Colorado Rapids," he explained.

"Except my note said, 'Trade me right F$&*#@ng now!'"

When I think of more, I'll write.
You know who


Dear Phil,

This should help pay for Beckham's salary. I think I read that when he signed for Real Madrid, they sold out of his jerseys on the first day.

You know who

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Remember Freddy?

Dear Georgie,

I recently searched for the article, but I guess it's disappeared into wherever articles go after websites shut down.

It was in 2001 at the US Youth Soccer National Championships, still called the Snickers Cup back then. Lawrence, Ind., better known as Indianapolis, was the host. I was there, for my fifth straight summer, doing some articles.

As is the case at any of the USYS Nationals, there are some very good teams, and a whole lot of above-average players. Technically sound, tactically aware (for the most part), very obliging to their accented coach who has them robotically obeying the game plan -- two-touch, knock it wide, drop it back, possess it and lose it. Not that I'm being cynical or anything.

Anyway, I was walking around the complex, hung over and carrying the usual supplies in my pockets. Diet Coke, couple of pens, tape recorder, reporter's notebook. I had a really hard time distinguishing one team from another. They all looked the same. White kids with the same haircut, knocking the ball around, taking no chances, going nowhere, yet tackling really hard.

Then I saw a guy I knew from Eurosport. "Go over the Field 4," he told me. I asked why, and he said, "You'll see."

I did.

Field 4 was easy to find. It was the one with the crowd on the endline. That's a dead giveaway. Youth soccer crowds are always on the sideline opposite the benches. If there is a crowd behind the goal, something interesting is going on.

Sure enough. There was this kid. He was unreal.

He was playing for the Potomac Cougars U14 team, but he was born on June 2, 1989, which meant he just turned 12. Yeah, yeah, I know. The popular thing to do is talk about how Freddy is really 5 years older than he says. Haven't seen the proof of that, so he is what he says.

I wrote an article that night about him. It was called "His Name is Freddy." Best I can figure it was the first or second article written about Freddy Adu in the American media. Will Kuhns of Soccer America did one about the same time, but I'm not sure if it was before nationals or after.

Anyway, I guess it's gone now. Since then, I have watched his career with interest. And I've read and listened to people cut him down as overrated, washed up, whatever.

Then I watched him the other night with the U.S. U20s against Brazil.

Told you so!

You know who

Origins of the Illness

Dear Johan,

About 32 years ago, I came to understand the grip soccer had on me. It helps if I try to keep in mind what I actually said that day. I figure, it gives me excuses for my behavior. Weak ones, but they're better than nothing. If I know the root cause of my problem, I can explain it away in my head. Or, so I would like to believe.

I read soccer forums and some blogs. Parents of youth soccer players feel they are addicted to the game, and like to spout off about how consumed they are by it. Their kid, after all, has been playing youth soccer for probably 5 years, so obviously, there is little for them left to learn. I'm not like that. I don't think about soccer all the time, just most of the time. Nor do I feel the need to share my knowledge about the game. I love learning new things about soccer, and I feel I can learn from anyone, novice or expert.

I just can't get enough -- never could, never will.

Tracing the origins of my illness will show that it started at age 4. My dad was a coach. I was a ball-chaser for the local college team, and that was 44 years ago. In high school, I didn't have a place to play in the summer, so I started an adult team and got us in a league. That, by the way, made me the club president, travel-coordinator, field-liner, registrar, net-hanger, and sideline-mower. My garage was the storage shed. My Datsun B210 hauled balls, nets and lime (pre-historic field paint).

Oh, I was also player-coach. I was 16.

My goalkeeper was a 32-year-old alcoholic math genius who could play anytime the Grateful Dead wasn't within travelling distance. We always had some collegiate players in town for the summer. We had a 24-year-old Englishman who was unbelievable, and a variety of characters who will make up my next book (tentatively titled How Soccer Ruined My Life).

By 17, I was a league officer -- again because if I didn't help I might not have had a place to play.

By that time, though, I was well aware of the illness. Four or five years before that was the first time I said the words that made me understand. It was fall in Central New York -- late enough in the fall for the snow to be finally gone. It was the first nice day of season, warm enough for the neighbors to mow their lawns. I walked outside, stopped in my tracks and said, "It smells like soccer."

That was it. It was over for me. I had long ago reached the point where an open field was a potential soccer complex. I was already suffering from the infliction of seeing something black and white out of the corner of your eye and automatically thinking it was a soccer ball.

Now, though, my old factory senses were playing along. Things could now smell like soccer.

When I think of more, I'll write.


You know who.

Jeff Bradley, One of the Good Guys

Dear Steve,

I have to admit I'm a bit snobbish about what I read.

As a former soccer journalist -- back in the days when it was really hard to believe that people actually made a living as "soccer journalists" in this country -- I developed a odd distain for the couch journalism that emerged in the early 2000s. People could sit on their couch, watch games on TV and write as if they were experts. I never considered myself an expert. But in the U.S. there are so many people who openly admit to knowing nothing of the sport, someone with a bit of a background could easily be viewed as one. The TV-watchers believed it.

There were just a handful of soccer writers who I respected and considered good. Off the top of my head ... let's see. Jerry Trecker was one (please take special note of the name "Jerry", it is distinctly different than "Jamie.") Ridge Mahoney was another.

Jeff Bradley was/is right up there at the top. He is interesting, a good writer, does the legwork, loves the game and is as professional as any journalist in sports. So I was excited when I found out that I was able to add his columns to my blog. I wonder what else I'll discover about this blogging thing.

When I think of something else, I'll write it.

You know who.