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There's something magical about coaching young kids in a soccer team—kids who want to be the next Mia Hamm or Beckham. Soccer is a beautiful game, and when you're the one teaching kids the principles of that game, it's hard not to feel a bit honored.
Though I may have been teaching the kids, the truth is that there were many lessons learned coaching soccer on my end, too. If you haven't done it before, let me tell you what I've learned from dealing with aspiring soccer stars in a youth team.
One of the most obvious lessons learned coaching soccer teams with kids is that kids really don't change.
You know, it's really funny. In the 1990s, when I was a kid, things seemed so much safer back then. There were funny kids, mean kids, kids who didn't fit in, and popular kids. There weren't really school shootings, but there were a lot of kids who were "edgy goth" types.
We had a goth kid on our soccer team, and a nerd. We also had a jock-type, a couple of "popular kids" and one goofball that just couldn't keep a straight face if he tried. Though the times might change, kids really don't.
Soccer builds a community and friendships.
Remember the goth kid? His parents had signed him up for my soccer team because they felt it'd help him get out of his shell. He was stuck on the team, and at first, he didn't want to talk to any of them. He didn't even want to play.
Eventually, I had to sit him down and talk to him. Apparently, his parents had been trying to get him to play soccer and "be normal," and he wasn't having it. I asked him why he couldn't "be weird" and also play soccer; the two weren't mutually exclusive.
He thought about it, and then started playing. Within three weeks, he actually spoke to a fellow player and found out they shared the same taste in music. One of the lessons learned coaching soccer, I've found, was seeing how soccer can unite the strangest of people together.
Train the way you play.
Another important part of the lessons learned coaching soccer is that kids often will reflect the energy you give. If you want to be a great trainer, you will only get what you give.
A great trainer will lead by example. They'll train kids the way they want the kids to play. Passion, intensity, and nonstop focus are what will lead your kids to victory—so make a point of adding those elements in your training game.
Scheduling in the fun stuff after the hard stuff will keep whining at bay.
When you schedule the fun stuff first, kids will whine. This is one of the lessons learned coaching soccer teams filled with kids—and if you want to continue being a coach, you'll take that lesson to heart quickly.
Schedule the soccer goalkeeper drills you know first, then have a quick (but fun) soccer story break. Schedule the grueling bootcamp you want to try, then have a special "bootcamp graduation" ceremony.
Doing this helps reward struggling players and makes time go faster.
Sometimes, it's not the soccer players who are bad sports...
One of the more aggravating lessons learned coaching soccer teams was that it's not always the players that were bad sports. Sure, we'd have a kid on the team cry when they lost a goal, but the real bad sports were often the parents.
Soccer moms can be really vicious when it comes to any and all youth sports. We had one parent that we needed to ask not to attend games because she'd berate staff members every time the ball wasn't passed to her kid.
Another threatened me when I didn't put her kid in the right position on the field. Parents, please get a grip! Youth soccer isn't a big deal.
Speaking of which, forcing a sport down a kid's throat is never wise.
It's a great way to wreck their budding interest in anything. I've seen it time and time before. If you care about your kid's happiness, don't do this. It's nothing short of abuse, in my opinion.
You will occasionally be afraid when you're coaching, or feel you're unqualified—do it anyway.
One of the greatest life lessons learned coaching soccer is realizing that it's just as scary on the sidelines as when you're on the field. You have all these expectations put before you, and sometimes, you will not feel like you're up for it.
It's okay. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Things will turn out way better than you think—and if they don't, it's alright too. Take it as a learning experience and you'll never really lose.
Patience is a virtue—as is communication.
One of my best soccer players on the team, some kid who might end up becoming one of the most famous soccer players of all time later on, was a total nightmare when she first showed up. She would bicker, argue, and throw tantrums.
I was patient with her, talked to her, and eventually, figured out what her issue was. She mellowed out and soon began channeling that rage in the soccer ball.
By the end of the season, she was my top player and had learned tons of life lessons about communication. It was pretty awesome having her on the soccer field.
Communication on the field, too, is pretty priceless. But, if you love soccer, you already know that.
When you're a coach, it's not about you.
It's really not. Taking ego out of the game is one of the most crucial lessons learned coaching soccer teams filled with kids. If you make it about yourself, you will not have kids who enjoy soccer or even put in an effort to score that one goal.
Being an egoist doesn't work in teamwork, ever. Both coaches and players who want to be the best at the game need to be able to realize that. The biggest soccer scandals in pro soccer are often due to greed and ego being in the way.
Don't be the one who allows that in your team.
Last but not least, it's not just a game.
Perhaps one of the best lessons learned coaching soccer is that it's not just a game. It's a brilliant tool to see life through a new way, gain new friends, unite a community, and also help yourself grow.
The kids who I first met coaching soccer have transformed in front of my very eyes into stronger, happier people with a better sense of confidence. Soccer, if nothing else, is priceless.