An Open Letter To Grace’s New Coach

photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc
photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc

Dear Grace’s new coach,

Hello. Receipt of this letter means you’ve made the intelligent choice of drafting Grace to play on your 7-8 soccer team this season. Congratulations. And warning. I’m watching you. No, I’m not that parent. I’m your friend.


Grace has had the benefit of a top-notch, incredible soccer experience. Yes, all three years of it. She learned technical skills and tactical knowledge and, more important, was allowed to flourish and develop her own sense of the game and all its nuances.

Her coach treated her very special and at the same time the same way as everyone else on her team.

He was me. And he was awesome not because of the trophies won or any dominance enjoyed, but because he made sure that he always answered that question in every practice and game and interaction he had as her coach: What’s best for the kids?

Remember why you’re here

He never lost sight of why he was on the sideline. For the kids. It’s never the coach.

EVER. Grace is incredibly coachable. She’ll play goalkeeper, defense, offense, anywhere you need. She’ll encourage her teammates. She’ll stick up for them, and she’ll stick up for you. True, she might turn cartwheels during practice and goof around with her mates.

When the uniform is on and the ball drops, you’ll see that look in her eye. Good things usually follow.

She knows the game. Make the team sprint before they warm up or dribble around cones or stand in line or listen to you lecture or lose your temper, and see what happens. You’ll lose her, and the others.

They’ll compare you to me and consider you inferior.

Wow, that sounds snobby. But she’s holding you to a high standard, too. They all are. Maybe it is snobby. Maybe you wonder now if you shouldn’t have drafted her. She knows better, though.

No, we didn’t win every game. She’s scored many hat tricks but has also endured a season without a single goal. She learned from both, about the value of scoring, and what you can do when the scoring doesn’t happen – defense, supporting teammates, working hard.

What’s best for the team?

I’m completely receptive to any invitation to become your assistant coach.

Not to take over, but to contribute. It’s your team. I’d be there to help. I highly suggest you extend that offer. The other kids you’re likely to draft, if you’ve paid attention, have also come from my camp.

They’re the ones you might have seen last year dribbling around your players.

The girl who always seems to be in the right place on defense, or the boy who passes as well as his big brother. They’re good because they’re creative and confident because of the environment they’re coming from.

Your players are capable of that, too.

You’ll notice that, like Grace, some of these players have ponytails. Don’t be afraid.

In some archaic dialects, a ponytail means “belongs on defense or on the bench while the boys do the real work.” But then Susan B. Anthony and Mia Hamm came along, and that translation got lost in history, but not completely, unfortunately.

hed2 here

That mindset still thrives in places, such as Afghanistan and parts of Cabarrus County.

Don’t be fooled into hiding the ponytails on defense or your bench. Watch your most aggressive boy try and take the ball from a ponytail, and you’ll understand. Let them show you what they’re capable of.

I’m holding you to a high standard, Mr. New Coach. Not to treat my daughter like a princess, although she is royalty. I’m holding you to a standard to teach and develop her like all the kids on your roster deserve. Ponytail or no.

The association will let me coach only one team this season, so you’ll have your chance to coach her, too. And many others I consider my kids. It’s a great opportunity for you. Yes, they’re on your roster, but the kids who play for me will always be my kids. Just ask them.

You’ll love Grace on your team, though. She’ll make your life easier in many ways.

So long as you remember this, above all else – you are here for her and her teammates; they’re not here for you. Keep that straight, and we’ll get along just fine. Get confused, and it could be a long one. For all of us.

Good luck.

Your friend,
Coach E

Perfection Pending


  1. ilene says:

    One of the things this post drove home for me is that when we are the leaders of children, whether as a parent, a coach, a teacher, any kind of leader/role model, we have a choice. We can sprinkle pixie dust on them and encourage, support, teach them the skills needed for the game or for life, with enthusiasm, show them their strengths but also alert them to their weaknesses – not in a shameful way but to show them how to compensate and fortify themselves in those areas. Or, we can sprinkle poison. We can divide and discourage and humiliate and tear down and teach hatred – or something close. I hope that no matter who coaches Grace, she is sprinkled generously with that silver glitter – just as she was by her last coach and by her father.

    1. You’re absolutely right about the choice, Ilene, and you put it more eloquently than I did. It’s all about the manner of encouraging, not to just gloss over weaknesses and accept anything but their best, but to help them get better, and enjoy the game. Teaching them to hate and humiliate by example is only going to make them that way when they’re older, behind the wheel or in relationships or in their work environment.

      Thanks Ilene – I hope she gets the glitter, too!

  2. Letizia says:

    “Not to treat my daughter like a princess, although she is royalty.” I love that! Go Grace!

    1. Thanks Letizia – I want her to know she’s my angel, but not think the world revolves around her. That’s a delicate balance!

  3. AnnMarie says:

    I can relate to this on so many levels. Leo was the boys’ coach for one sport or another for the last ten years and I had similar things to say to their coaches (in my head, not to them). You can tell the coaches that were there for the kids because those were the seasons that Nico and Tommy grew and their love for the sport grew. The seasons that the coaches had their own agendas ended up with burnt out players and injuries. Belle has just started playing volleyball and she’s pretty good because her coach is making sure she loves the game while learning it. I absolutely love the paragraph where you said, lecture or lose your temper and you’ll lose her. Why don’t more coaches get that?

    1. There’s definitely a correlation between how a kid grows in her sport and what her coach’s agenda is. I’ve said many times, we’re there for the kids, they’re not there for us. I had my chance at athletic glory and that opportunity is found on so many blooper reels. It’s over!

      I watched one of my former players on her school team, with Marie, yesterday. This player told me after the game she misses our team, because it was so “chill.” I think that’s a compliment. I think we proved you can be intense and chill at the same time. It’s a good combination!

  4. I love your perspective here. I wish more coaches realized that they were there for the kids and not the other way around. School sports is such a weird environment. Finding that balance between encouraging kids to play to their potential without pushing them or making them think they always win is tough.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. It helps that, in this world of coaches trying to recapture their lost glory of youth … I never had any glory of youth! We do need to do a better job of modeling that balance of competitiveness and just having fun. It exists, I swear it does.

  5. Such a sweet letter!! Hopefully she gets an amazing coach like you! And, I love the part about the players with the ponytails. My daughter said that there is only one soccer ball at school and all the boys hog it at recess. She wants to play soccer too! I’ve tried to tell her to just get out there and steal it from them or ask to play too, but I think she is a little too shy for that.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Meredith. After reading it, I thought, man, that sounds pompous! I now get to coach her again, so here’s to things going full circle.

      Boys are good at hogging. And bad about being shown up by girls. Although it happens all the time.

      She should bring her own ball and invite anyone she wants to her game. Grace will play, too.

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