Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Soccer Parenting 101

Dear Donna,

I told this to a parent on my U13 team once, and I don't think she appreciated it. "As the kids grow up," I said, "so will the parents."

That was reinforced in my mind this past weekend. I took my U18s to a tournament and the parental involvement was exactly what a coach would want it to be. The job of the parent, as I see it, is as follows:

1. Get the girls to the field on time
2. Disappear until the game starts
3. Sit, watch and cheer.

And that's exactly what they did. Of course, being the veterans that they are, they threw in a couple of nice extras. They set up the tent for the girls, but didn't linger and distract them. As soon as warmups started, they were gone. They brought coolers full of extra water, ice and cold towels -- which was nice because by halftime, my bottle of water was nearing the boiling point. They brought oranges, grapes and bananas. And they didn't carry the girls' bags for them -- a huge pet peeve of mine.

They were just there.

After the games, they are always ready to do what needs to be done. Get the girls to a cool place, feed them and get them back on time.

Plus, they have always been great to me. They understand the commitment I make to their daughters and go out of their ways to support what I do. I always get "Thank-yous" from them and they send truly heart-felt emails. I told them four years ago that I would take care of and protect their daughters. I proved it, so now they trust me and know they don't have to overstep their boundaries to do it.

Anyway, that's a great bunch of parents. Next week, I'll compare it to the group of parents who haven't grown up yet.

When I think of more, I'll write

You Know Who

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why I Coach, Part II

Dear Caroline,

They certainly are a fun bunch. When I talk to parents of my U18 girls, they seem to think I am some kind of saint -- or at least have the patience of one. Who in their right mind, they ask, could tolerate eighteen 17-year-old girls? I've never claimed to be in my right mind, and since I enjoy the girls so much, I guess it's obvious that I'm at least a little odd. Besides, it's a lot better when they are 17 than when they were 14.

It's amazing to me how competitive they can be, while at the same time laugh at each other, joke with each other and still get results. We played our first tournament this past weekend and won our division, pretty easily actually.

We are not the most skilled team, but after four years with this group, I have found a system that allows them to be successful. That, to me, is an accomplishment. Not because we win more games than we lose, but because at 17 years old, these girls are still playing soccer. The alternatives to playing are not good for teenagers these days. They have too many options, too many ways to get in trouble.

The system plays to their strengths, protects their weaknesses and produces convincing wins. I have a new assistant coach this year who was skeptical of a system that utilizes one forward. After outscoring our three opponents by six goals, shutting out two teams and leaving with a pair of wins and a draw, she told me that my 4-5-1 formation may actually allow them to play better than they are capable. That's an interesting point.

Anyway, the best part is that the girls had a blast. This is their last year playing with each other and the core of the team has been together for seven years. That's a lot of history. All they want is to be successful and have a lot of a blast doing it. So that's my job.

It's a fun job, too. They make me laugh. I feel bad for them when they get down, but I am able to bring them back up -- partially because I know their personalities and the intracacies of their lives. That's a piece of coaching that I believe is very important and often overlooked.

For example, I know who wants to play college ball, so I demand more of them. I know who needs to bust out of their comfort zone, so I force them to do that. I know who is there for mostly social reasons so I permit as much of that as possible.

And, by the way, the parents are great. More on that later.

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