Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Steep Learning Curve

I was the soccer coach for my middle daughter, Macy, for three seasons.  The learning curve for the kids at four and five is steep, but the learning curve for a soccer coach who never played soccer is quite a bit steeper.

(for the purposes of this post, the names of the other kids have been changed to protect the innocent and unwieldy)

We had kids from all walks of life out there.  We had "Conan", a five year old girl who had two methodologies, 'score' and 'destroy'.  As a coach, she was much more fun to be around when the goal went in the back of the net. We had "Wally" who was a brick wall of a defender, faster than any other kid but generally took him two games into the season before he was willing to get on the field.  We had "Tracy" who would trace the center circle of the field with his feet during the game while the action would go on all around him.  Incidentally, both goals Tracy has scored to date were in his own goal, and yes, we cheered for those just as loudly.  Finally we had "Beckham".  She joined our team during our last season.  She had hit her growth spurt before the other kids.  She was bigger than all the girls, most of the boys and three or four coaches.  Beckham could score at will.  You would think this would be a dream for a coach but in Under-5 soccer the point isn't winning as much as it is instilling appreciation for the game and have a bunch of fun. 

During our first two seasons, the Lightning Sharks (the kids picked it) lost more than they won but had a lot of fun doing so.  We had a smattering of good players, shy players, and goofballs.  We had a pair of twins who wouldn't leave the center circle or play without their sister.  In 3-on-3 soccer this proved more than a touch cumbersome but I found that putting Wally on the filed with the twins was a decent enough fit as he could stem the tide of goals.

The point of this post, however, is the last season I coached the "Lightning Sharks".  The team came together and with the injection of Beckham to the mix the game went from trying to stop the other team from scoring to trying to stop ours.  It was a weird scenario, Beckham would literally take the opening tip and score every game.  She generally would have four or five goals in the first half despite me sitting her longer than she should be sat.  I didn't like penalizing her for being good but, oh the humanity! 

So the Lightning Sharks go through their season and the wins are piling up.  Everyone gets equal playing time but Beckham gets a little less (for the sake of the opponent) and Tracy gets a little more as to help him develop.  This goes on for the first two months of the season but in the final week I decide to let Beckham play her fair share,  Whoops.

Beckham scored six goals in the first half.  Over all every player on our team had scored including Tracy putting up the opponents only score.  At half time we discuss juice box flavors and the best way to peel a banana and I ask a dumb question...."who wants to start the second half?"  Macy, Wally and Beckham all raise their hands.  At this moment I know that we can score in bunches and with Wally out there, the other team doesn't stand a chance of scoring.

The half starts and the other team has their biggest kids out there.  Before I know it they are driving for a goal.  I was actively cheering for the other team. Their biggest fastest kid lines up for a goal.  "Please go in" I thought, but no such luck.  Wally comes up with a sliding steal, one that you would be impressed with by a college player.  He passed the ball up field to Macy.  It was a thing of beauty.  Macy touched it once and then passed it to a streaking Beckham.  As a coach I should have been so proud, it was a thing of beauty.  Beckham shoots from twenty feet out, really laying into it.  It pops the back of the net and I smiled as Macy and Wally went nuts.  But then it happened.  As the opponents lagged into their own goal area, Beckham said, clear as a bell...

"Are you guys even trying to stop me?"

It took a second or two to register.  When it did it was a rush of emotions; confusion, anger, embarrassment washed over me.  "Are you guys even trying to stop me?".   In a knee jerk reaction I snapped my fingers and pointed to the spot next to me.  Needless to say Beckham didn't get the opportunity to play half of the second half minutes.

In that moment something dawned on me.  I had coached basic skills, stressed that the point of playing was to learn, try hard and have fun.  In practice we played games and laughed.  I had stressed to parents that I had a zero tolerance policy for parents disrespecting kids, coaches or refs.  But I never once addressed sportsmanship, or at least not on the capacity I should have.

So here goes.  Girls, its not about winning - even though it always feels like it.  Its about how you win and how you lose.  Your daddy will always be prouder of of a gracious loser than a boastful winner.  In every soccer game half of the players leave with without a win.  A good part of the time that team will be you.  Learn to play hard, do your best and let the chips fall where they may.  If you know you left it on the field, it gets a whole lot easier taking a loss and a lot easier shaking someones hand after you win.