I hope I’m many things as a coach.
Energetic. Understanding. Compassionate. Unfair. You heard me. Unfair. Because when I hear those words during practice, from the kids I love and teach and protect … “Coach, this isn’t fair!“
I know the learning’s begun.
In my practices, we play small-sided games. Three against three. Four against four. No scrimmages. No full-field soccer. We set up little goals on the corners of the field, or balance a soccer ball on a cone, or three balls on three cones.
We challenge the kids to play normal soccer, but rather than shoot on goals, you have to knock the ball off the cone.
Or hit someone’s feet with a soccer ball. Or make four straight passes. Or knock over tall cones while others defend them. I want the defenders to send the ball out as far as they can. Get a little nasty even.
It’s not fair!
The rules change, constantly.
This goal’s worth 10 points. That one, 50. If you can hit this one on one touch, it’s 523. Soccer is about creating. Problem-solving. Expressing your athletic/creative side in the context of the game. It’s not situationally scripted, as in baseball.
Or football. Or softball.
I want my players to think. React. Learn. Solve. So when the 3 v 3 game becomes ordinary, I do like NASCAR: I change the rules on a whim. I’ll take a kid who scored and place him on the team he just scored against.
So 3 v 3 becomes 4 v 2, and that’s when the kids cry foul.
“It’s not fair!” No, it isn’t. And you’re welcome. Because when it’s 4 v 2, the view changes. Whether you’re the 4. Or whether you’re the 2. I want my players to know what it’s like to be the 4.
That sounds harsh, and maybe it is.
I want them to play them out like a storm
They already know just because one gets to be captain, it doesn’t mean everyone else will. They already know that they might have more turns than the next player, or less, but that’s just how it is.
I’m not keeping score.
I’m not there to ensure fairness for everyone. I’m there to allow them to play soccer, yes, but I’m under no obligation to make this, even at age 7, a socialist soccer field in which everyone has everything the next player does.
I’m not trying to encourage a cutthroat approach to life or soccer.
It’s not about winning at all costs. It’s about recognizing that sometimes you’re the 4, and sometimes you’re the 2, and what matters is how you react to being the 4. Or the 2. If they know what it’s like to be the 4, they’ll know what it’s like to have an advantage.
To execute when the numbers are in your favor.
To audition for the play with confidence. To take that SAT with self-assuredness. To study and work out and run and strain and recognize their advantages, yes, but also play them out like a storm.
I want them to take on the world
I want them to play confidently when the advantage is theirs, on the field and off.
I also want them to know what it feels like to be the 2. I want them to feel the burden of disadvantage, to know to an extent that sinking feeling inside, to feel outnumbered, out muscled, exposed.
I want them to feel this in the safety of one of my practices.
I want them to feel those chambers click in their soul, the same chambers that unlock a resolve in them that might grit their teeth, maybe even snarl their lip, and spur them to team up as the 2 and take on the 4.
I want them to recognize their success, even in the tiniest of increments, and let it build inside them.
I want them to see those successes grow and multiply, for them to conjure up gumption and confidence and even pride. I want them to fight back on the 4, to match the 4, to maybe even defeat the 4, and feel like they could do the same against 6.
Or 8. Or the world.
What will you be today?
I want them to realize the power in trusting each other, and themselves.
I want them to realize there’s strength in the 2, and that it grows. I want to do many things as a coach. Teach. Inspire. Provoke. Love. And by assuring my players of nothing fair, but only of a fair shot to experience the game and learn the game.
In turn, experience and learn – whether they’re the 4, or whether they’re the 2.
Because in this world, you don’t know which you’re going to be today.Until you are.