Before tonight’s local youth soccer club house league coaches’ meeting, I wound up in a conversation that veered from All-Star team selection to a coach complaining that his world-beating team was broken up.
“Why do they need to do that?” this guy asked.
I tried some self-deprecating humor: “So teams like mine don’t get blown out every week.”
His abrupt response: “Coach better!”
I laughed for a second. Then I realized he wasn’t laughing. Only two possibilities: He has a terrific poker face, or he was serious. I tried to find something to say that would fit both scenarios. That’s not easy. James Bond has it easy — he knows when people are messing with him.
He doubled down, saying a couple of things that made it clear he was, in fact, not joking. I thought about trying to convey that I’ve covered youth soccer issues, but I think just babbled something along the lines of “I … write … things … soccer …”
The meeting started, interrupting the conversation. While my mind wandered a little (sorry, yes, it happens), it occurred to me I could ask him afterwards which age group he coached. Surely he didn’t mean to sound so harsh and would appreciate a chance to be heard. Then I could tell him I’m working on a book on youth soccer and would value his input.
After all, parity in house leagues is a legitimate issue. Blowouts aren’t fun for anyone. But you hate to tell a bunch of kids they can’t play with their friends just because they’re too good. I like hearing from parents and coaches on issues like this.
Meeting ends. I turn and ask what age group he coached. “Why don’t you ask (so-and-so) — we did fine against his team.”
So I won’t really have anything for the book from this conversation.
On the way out, I mentioned the conversation to a friend of mine. He pointed out that if the guy think he’s such a great coach, he should be able to win all his games with whichever kids they assign him. Good one.
They say to check your ego at the door if you’re going to be a youth soccer coach. Particularly in a recreational league in which the luck of the draw may or may not give you good athletes, your “results” may or may not match your coaching skill. I’ve coached good teams and not-so-good teams, and I think I’ve done a better job with the not-so-good teams. I’ve seen terrific coaches who do everything they’re supposed to do and still lose, and I’ve seen utterly clueless coaches win. I have my clueless moments, and my teams sometimes win in spite of me.
It’s soccer. It’s about players. As a coach, you measure success by two metrics — how much did players improve, and how much did they enjoy the experience?
And if I do my job too well, my players might move (and, in fact, have moved) to travel teams. Maybe I should coach worse.