My coaching "career" started out when I was still in college. My cousin's soccer team (4th-6th grade) didn't have a coach and they were 3 games into their season already. Up to this point another coach for another team had been trying to help them but found that juggling two teams was very difficult. My uncle, being the kind man that he is, volunteered to take over the coaching duties. Immediately upon accepting this, he called me and informed me that him and I were going to be coaching my cousin's soccer team. My initial response: "Thanks for letting me know." My uncle is a Packer fan and avid American football lover. His knowledge of soccer is limited to the fact that he married my Aunt who grew up in Brazil along with my mother and grandparents. He took care of all the calling and organizing while letting me do the actual teaching since I was born in Brazil and had been playing soccer my whole life until I dislocated my knee my senior year of high school.
Here I am sitting at my desk at work during a period where I currently have nothing to do and I am thinking about the Chiefs and how awesome we have been this season, especially this last Sunday. Our awesomeness was so good in fact that the Football Gods had to punish us for tainting the Golden City and creating the Darkspawn (1000 internetz if you get the reference.) As I do every day, I have been reading over Arrowhead Pride and have noticed many comments about how we need to fire Crennel and Daboll. Upon hearing this I began to think back on my time as a soccer coach (a much better sport in my opinion; not debatable :) ) and what it was like for me. I guess I have a soft spot for coaches and have been having trouble with the "Fire Crennel; Fire Daboll" bandwagon. After the jump I am going to describe my time as a coach and what I went through. My objective is not to change your mind or tell you that your opinion is stupid (it is :) ) but rather to give you an insight as to what goes on in a coaches mind during practice and over a season. My post may be long or it may be short so I want to thank any of you that get to the end for reading it regardless of length. Also, I know that soccer is not the same as American Football but I feel like coaching is the same regardless of sport.
I remember the first practice we had. Man, what a cluster....what a disorganized mess that was. A few of the kids actually understood the game and actually had talent while most of the kids just wanted to be involved. Do you know how hard it is to teach 4th-6th graders? My 6 month old has a bigger attention span than them and whines less too. I remember thinking "Man, I don't know if I can do this." It was a struggle at first trying to pass my intimate knowledge of the game to the kids. I realized that a lot of the stuff I took for granted (passing to space instead of the man, using the side of your foot to pass) had to be instilled in the kids. I went from wanting to teach them "how to read a defense" to "how to pass correctly." After many, many, many, many repetitions the kids started getting it. I could tell they felt very proud of themselves, as they should be.
Dealing with the "boring"
Most practices went on like this, teaching the kids one new skill and making sure they didn't forget anything I taught them previously. It was a long process and the kids often got bored. They wanted to scrimmage every time but you can't always do that. I had come face to face with one of the biggest obstacles with coaching: keeping your players motivated and engaged during practice, especially with the "boring" but important things. I found that winning isn't a good motivation because hey, they are winning, why do they need to change anything. Losing wasn't good either because they would be discouraged. Every practice became the balancing act of mixing "boring" with the fun.
The "WTF" moment
The season started and my team did pretty well. We won our first 4 games even though we looked sloppy doing it. Then it happened, the fifth game. It started out decently enough being up 1-0 at halftime (already better than the Chiefs) and I admit I didn't make any adjustments. The second half starts and I begin to worry as the opposing team continues to attack while we struggle to get the ball out of our half of the field. Suddenly the best player on the team grabs a stray ball and makes a run toward the opponents goal with only one defender between him and the goalie. The center (I used the basic 3 man front) is sprinting to help him out creating a beautiful 2 on 1 scenario when suddenly it happens: instead of passing the ball the kid tries to be a hero and takes a shot. The ball is saved by the goalie who immediately throws it to an open guy who passes it to his teammate by the goal (no offsides in this league) and he ties it up. I was stunned. We had practiced this MULTIPLE times in practice, wtf was he doing not passing it? I stood there in shock for a minute trying to figure out how and why this happened.
Our defense was out of position because they were running up to help or stood there watching what they believed to be a sure goal. The kid, after his shot got saved, stood there and watched instead of going back to help. The center stared at his teammate with a look that would scare the bravest of men. This is not what I taught them so why did they do it? Needless to say, the game ended up being 9-2 in the other teams favor.
The Rage After the Storm
Our next practice was not fun. It was back to basics. It was back to working as a team, back to learning how to pass properly. The kids didn't like it but they needed to get it right. I remember during the days leading up to practice deciding whether I should yell at them or not. My wife (then fiancee) who happens to be a teacher told me yelling probably won't help and it could make it worse. "Worse?" I remember asking her. "We just got schooled by a team that hadn't won a game all year and we looked like we had never played ball in our life."
"Well, whose fault is that," she responded looking straight at me.
"Me? How is this my fault?! I TAUGHT them to play better than this. I am not the one on the field!"
"Well," she responded coolly, "Apparently you didn't teach them well enough."
I left in a fit of rage. MY FAULT? Surely she must be kidding. I DID teach them to play better than this. How is it MY fault? As the days went by, self doubt started creeping in. "I did teach them, didn't I? I mean, they do it in practice, right?"
We lost our next game by an embarrassing 15-0 (thank you for the mercy rule.) We fought hard at the beginning but we couldn't stop them. One player on their team was on fire that day and I couldn't figure out how to stop him. I usually play zone defense (well, as best you can with 4th-6th graders) but I had my fastest kid play man on him and he still beat him. I switched to a 1 man front with the kid being doubled but that left other players open. I could not figure out what was going on. My kids weren't playing like a team and were yelling at each other. I became angry. I was angry at myself, at my kids, at the other coach for making me look stupid. After the game I told my kids when the next practice was and then left.
The Honesty of Women
My wife, I don't know what I would do without her. I was pissed and doubting myself and then she told me something that really changed my perspective. I was sitting at my computer blowing up virtual people in Battlefield:Vietnam when she asked me what was wrong. I told her what was bothering me and she responded with: "Well, you will always be blamed because you are the coach whether it is 'your' fault or not. That is what comes with being a coach or any type of teacher. What do you think teacher's go through?" I sat there thinking about it and realized she was right (not the first time as she enjoys reminding me.) If the team does well, the kids get the credit for their performance but if they don't, it is my fault. I have to accept this fact if I want to coach. With this new outlook on coaching things got better. I realized that I would have to cover the fundamentals every time even if I and the kids didn't want to.
The End of the Story
The season ended with us losing in the championship game 3-1 after taking a 1-0 lead at the half. I remember that game. We had lost the first game of the tournament in a double elimination so we had to play all day with no breaks between games. My kids were tired and hungry (no breaks meant no lunch; stupid scheduling but whatever.) Finally, right before the final game we had 10 minutes and I let the kids eat something which was a huge mistake. My best defender became ill and threw up and went home before the game. My team was tired and just couldn't keep up with a well rested (they hadn't lost all day so they got breaks between games and had been watching the game of ours previously.) We scored first and I switched to 1 man front with everybody else on defense. We were doing fine but you could tell they were getting tired and then, when the equalizer went in, it was over. There was nothing I could do. My kids looked at me for support but I knew there was nothing. They were too tired to keep up so adjustments didn't matter. The same team that beat us 15-0 beat us again in the championship and again I felt out coached.
To this day I don't know what I could have done differently and continue to second guess every decision I made. Maybe I shouldn't have moved to a 1 man front. What happened during the first game that I could have changed so we would have won and been rested? Why did they have that stupid schedule? What can I do when my players are getting beat 1v1? There probably won't ever be an answer to any of these questions (except that stupid schedule, seriously fix that) but I really feel for Romeo. He has been saying "I don't know why we lost" and you know, he might be right. It isn't that he doesn't know (the other team scored more points than us, thanks John Madden!) but rather he doesn't know how to fix it. How do you fix balls hitting receivers in the hands and not catching it? How do you fix Flowers and Routt being schooled by Bucs receivers all day? How do you fix an OL that can't block some days and then when they do a holding penalty is called? I honestly think Romeo goes home at night and just sits there wondering what he can do when the players play like 11 individuals instead of 1 team.
I am probably reading too much into this but I remember what it was like as a coach and I feel bad for Romeo. It will always be his fault regardless of whether he can actually do anything about it. I am glad I am not him his position, I had enough trouble with 4th-6th graders, I can only imagine what it would be like with 53 grown and well paid men.