Old Soccer Guy has been writing about why he coaches, sharing some heartfelt experiences as examples. (Here, here, and here) I’ve been toying with a similar post, but never have been able to narrow it down. There are so many things I enjoy. But OSG’s posts highlight what I was struggling with – in the end it’s about the kids. The experiences you have with them as they grow up and learn the game will stay with you for a lifetime. I’m working on a tribute to my U10 Storm team from last year, not to trumpet what they did on the scoreboard, but more how they grew from this mismash group of kids into a true team and did well. I hope to have it finished soon and it’ll be primarily about how much fun we had as a team.

I often get asked why I chose to coach girls. On my Rec teams, which were all coed, I’ve found the girls the most challenging to coach. Yes, this is generalizing, but I find it mostly true. You give a boy a ball and a target and tell him to do whatever it takes to get the ball to the target – whoosh – there they go. With girls, it’s not always that easy at first. They are much more complex in terms of motivating them towards a goal or even the goal. So despite these looks of pity I got from my Soccer Mom’s when I told them I’d be coaching the U11 Girls, I knew it would be a fun and exciting challenge. I just may not have realized how fun and challenging.

Something OSG alluded to as a reason to coach is also one of mine – players will give you memories that last a lifetime and a number of them happen off the field and are just down right funny. I love kids – I have four of my own for a reason, and in addition to hopefully helping them grow up to be happy successful people, they are just so darn entertaining!

My U11G team is, well, free spirited. We have an amazing diversity in personalities. Getting them all to focus on the task at hand has been a learning experience and will be one of our biggest challenges this year. But that’s OK – soccer is supposed to be fun. The trick is how much fun.

True story. We go to our first match of the season against a team from a nearby city where our girls knew a number of the girls on the other team. I had also coached one of them briefly – she’s a fantastic player, and so there was more apprehension than your average match for all of us. While we waited for the field to free up, we setup the tent and got the girls under it for some shade. Our team manager said she’d keep an eye on them while my assistant and I went to talk lineups and strategy against a team we knew was very good. As we were walking to the picnic shelter, I saw a group of the girls huddled in the sun near the corner of the tent like they were looking at a bug or something. Obviously that’s not a huge 10 year old girl pastime, so I had no idea what they could be so interested in, but I shrugged it off and continued walking.

So we’re playing the match and getting beaten handily. The girls just aren’t used to this level of play yet and they’re nervous, panicking when the ball comes to them, etc. All things to work on. As one of the girls comes off the field, having run her heart out, she comes towards me in the technical area rubbing her hand and says ‘Coach! My hand hurts. They burned a hole in it!’

You know, I’m a talkative opinionated guy – but here we are in the thick of a match and I’m completely speechless. I’m like ‘Whaaaaa? Go sit down and get some water!’ I notice she has a little red mark on the back of her hand. I can only imagine the look on my face when I was saying ‘What????’

Only later does our team manager come up to me and half jokingly say ‘Well I was an utter failure at that simple task you gave me! You asked me to keep an eye on them and they start setting fire to stuff!’ Again – I’m speechless. ‘Whaaaaa?’

Remember the huddle of giggling girls near the corner of the tent I mentioned before? Apparently one of them had brought a magnifying glass with them and was showing the rest how it could burn grass, melt holes in soccer socks, etc. So it took about 0.04 seconds for one of the girls to say “and it’ll burn you too!” and another 0.0007 for another to say ‘no way!’ so they all proceeded to stick their hands under the magnifying glass and get nice little dot burns. And that is how one of my players came to me off the field saying ‘they burned a hole in my hand’ That’s right, my soccer team comes to their first match as a Challenge team and instead of being nervous, they’re setting the field on fire.

I will remember that until the day I die and laugh about it with friends for a long long time. And yes, before you ask, the team discussions we had after that and a series of other slapstick events were epic. We’ve talked a LOT about focus, commitment, and the need to support each other as a team. But for a brand new team, they’ve definitely bonded as a team.

I don’t have all the details yet, but apparently one of our dads wanted his daughter to have some fun with her new friends on the team, so he invited ALL 14 Girls over for a slumber party for her birthday. All but one went and that one would have but was already going to be out of town. All the soccer moms on the team were telling him he was certifiably insane, but he insisted it would be OK. The moms just looked at him in pity knowing the trainwreck that was about to occur. Lets just say the girls ALL had prank lists in their heads and they executed them with flair. The chief pranksters on our team fell asleep first – and got a hair treatment of toothpaste and it went downhill from there. You name it – they did it. The dad was walking around practice on Monday in a state of semi shock. “Oh. My. God. Never again.” The Soccer Moms, after they got through fits of hysterics, reported the girls had the time of their lives, and they figure the fact that the dad was a) still alive and b) the house was still standing should all be taken as good signs. Lets just say that coaches worry about how a team will ‘gel’ – I think we’re all good in that respect. It’s getting them to focus that’s the trick.

Yes, of course it’s all about the soccer. But there’s SO much more that goes on with a competitive soccer team off the field, that in addition to the on field accomplishments and experiences – it makes coaching one of life’s more interesting and enjoyable experiences. It’s also one of the reasons I blog – I love to re-live this stuff when I write about it.

So that begs the question – if you do, why do you coach youth soccer?