Why Coach? Let Me Count the Ways


photo credit: A helping hand (close up) via photopin (license)
photo credit: A helping hand (close up) via photopin (license)

I could write a post on my definition of a coach.

I’ve interviewed them. My girls have played on their teams. I’ve been one. For 13 years, I’ve toiled the sideline, run training, lost big games and won a few. I’ve met grown people in Walmart parking lots who approach me and say … “coach … is that you?”

Yes, it is.

I’ve done this long enough that grown people in Walmart parking lots approach me that way. Some played in college. Some didn’t play again after leaving my team. They’ve gone onto schools and families, but some still call me coach.

“She wouldn’t play for anyone but you,” one mom told me Target.

It’s not a stellar record that keeps my all-time team together. It’s the experience. It’s what becomes of the relationship between coach and player, man and kid, and it transcends tactics or results. What is it, to be called coach?

It’s consultant, therapist and peace keeper

A kid I coached years ago on a team called the Snowmonsters recently looked at me eye-to-eye at a birthday party.

Jordan plays a role in one of my favorite soccer stories. With two goals in the books, he complained to me from his defensive position. “Coach!” he called. “I really want to play offense!” “I know, Jordan,” I answered.

“And I really want a Big Mac. We don’t always get what we want!”

Jordan’s a gifted player in the Olympic Development Program. We talked about how to get him playing in front of college coaches. Consultant, you see. I’ve had players with problems great and small on my team. I’ve been a shoulder to lean on, an ear to bend.

I’ve been forced to deal with the weak and the violent and those who just need someone to believe in them. I can do that. Like a therapist.

When siblings squabble or intra-team rivalries boil over, a coach must step in. When a high road must be taken or a referee out of control grounded, I’m your man. I’ll stand my ground and also stand for what’s right.

I’ve gotten roiled.

More so lately. If a parent takes a picture and I’m in the background, there’s a better than average chance I’m scowling. Whether it’s age or soaring glucose levels, there’s more edge to my soft edge. I always remember, though, that little eyes are watching.

What my teams do

We’ll quietly pull players off in a blowout. We’ll play dignified when our arses are served up on a platter. When pressure mounts, a coach can loosen the valve. To add games to a training session purely for fun.

To bring Popsicles when the temps surpass 90, or award a Juggling Champion of the World belt for the kid who juggles like a champ that day.

I’ve never been the superstar. That gives me a unique perspective as coach. Stars struggle, sometimes, to teach. I’ve lived the view from the bench, out of the eyes of the kid who never got a chance, because what if he failed?

It’s fair play and faith. It means as much to those who see it as those who make it.

When opponents are more talented and calls don’t go your way and the pitch at a visiting club really does roll downhill on one side, we coaches still must get it right. I want the kids to see the struggle, see how a champion is made.

I want them to see me fail and try again and never lose faith.

I can acknowledge muddy fields and horrible calls and rough play, but I must never make it an excuse. I must never lose sight of our own roles in our own outcomes. I must never fail to teach.

It’s about love

Whether it’s a push pass, the Ronaldinho, dressing warmly, tuning out parents, focusing for training or reminding ourselves to just take a deep breath when pressure runs high and remember why we’re out here in the first place …

Love the game and love the kids, or do both a great disservice.

It’s as silly as caffeine-free Coke. Show me a coach who dreads rousing up his troops on Saturday mornings and I’ll show you a man who should stay home and sleep in. He won’t understand that feeling you get when the kids rally around you for a pregame cheer.

He won’t know what it’s like when they answer your “Who’s ready to roll?” with a resounding “Me!” When you implore them to dig deep.

When you and your team find something that will mean much more in life than it does on that random Saturday morning. You do this because you’re in search of it yourself. That point. That meaning.

That moment you can flick your thumb at fate and statistics and numbers and say, “what resistance can dare stand up to this?”

Because just when you think you’ve found the realm of impossible a team or a kid will deliver a goal or a moment or a story that you’ll tell 5, 10, 15 years later and you’ll realize that the kid felt the impact, yes, but that the crater of greatest impact?

That resides within you. Coach.

wooden quote

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19 thoughts on “Why Coach? Let Me Count the Ways”

  1. Totally get this with seeing my own husband coach and just a special role you play in a young kid’s life as they are on your team and growing with the team and sport. Definitely couldn’t agree more and honestly love seeing this when I watch him coach from the sidelines myself 😉

  2. Beautiful post. I once had a group of football players for English who got around to calling me “coach.” I recognized the honor. My son thought it pretty cool that his buddies liked his teacher/mom that well. Oh boy, do I have stories concerning football players and English…

  3. I admire coaches so much. That’s some serious volunteer work right there. My son’s football coach this past season didn’t have a child on the team. That was my first experience with that. I was like wow he just wants to coach football not just his son’s team. Turns out he has three daughters and just loved to coach. He was excellent. Unfortunately you can’t help who you get paired up with. We witnessed several times some heat between he and the assistant coach. We’ve also had one of those “you should have stayed home” coaches. – insert eye roll.

  4. OK – I love this and I want you to coach my kids! I have utmost respect for coaches. My Dad was a high school baseball coach for over 30 years and there are people older than me in our home town who see him and still call him “Coach.” Now, my older brother coaches, too. I’ve seen them yelled at by parents, have to suspend kids for poor choices, and faced with impossible odds. But, they still come back and they still persevere because they love the kids AND the game. 🙂

  5. Can you be LM’s soccer coach this spring? With some of what I’ve witnessed from many parents (coaches and spectators), it sounds like they could really stand to read this post.

    And Go Panthers 😀

  6. Way to go Coach. I know two of these coaches personally. They were my high school coaches. 20 years later I still call them Coach. This is what I strive for when I coach now. I think being a coach is even more rewarding than teaching.

    “That moment you can flick your thumb at fate and statistics and numbers and say, “what resistance can dare stand up to this?” ~ perfect!

  7. Beautiful! Dad, Coach, Teacher – the most important roles in (young) people’s lives!
    My Mom who used to be a Kindergarten Teacher often has those supermarket encounters with former students. Some hire her as their wedding photographer these days.

  8. Even now I will still say the one of the greatest influences on my life, was my public school coach. That’s how far his ripple has spread… all the way to 40s and motherhood. And it’s odd that the same rules seem to apply to my current situation. That’s what was so great; I wasn’t just learning a sport: I learning at Life too.

    1. That’s incredible, Les. It’s humbling to know that, as a coach, you have that potential – but especially that you should do all you can to not make a kid’s time with you anything horrible.

      Coaching is 30 percent soccer, 70 percent life.

  9. Oh, I love what you’ve done here (see, been so long, I didn’t know you changed to a postcard comment system!).

    I love the passion, the drive, and the joy you obviously get from coaching and it’s clear that it’s not just something that you DO, but something you LOVE. and that it’s an experience. I’m sure there is a reason so many of your kids remember you, only want you as their coach, and that you are making these years just that much easier for all of the littles (and not so littles!) on your team. I like what the commenter above said–the world truly does need more of you ❤

    1. Thanks, Charlotte – just a little spring cleaning. I didn’t realize I had the postcards until after I switched themes, but I like them.

      I just hope the shared experience has been good for me and my players. I feel like I’ve gotten way more out of the experience than I can expect to have given!

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