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,” a mom told me in 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.