Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coaching is Hard

Coach Sandra has this thing she does where she puts her finger on her nose, and all the kids know to gather round, look at her, and listen. It is the end of practice and she does just that. It works like a charm.

“Did we have FUN today?” she asks loudly, leaning in.

“Yeah!” they all respond.

“What?” she says, hand behind her ear. “I can’t hear you…”

“YEAH!!!” they all scream excitedly. I am there and even I scream, just like an 8 year old. I did have fun. How does she do it? Is it her voice? This is the mysterious power of Coach Sandra.

I do not have that power. When I am in charge of the practice, it is less fun, and it goes more like this:

Me: “Okay, Scotia, grab a ball and dribble it over to the centre circle and back.”

Scotia, unmoving: “Where is Coach Sandra?”


Me: “Monica, c’mere, let me put some tape on your earrings.” (They aren’t supposed to wear earrings.)

Monica, wincing, looking around: “Can anyone else do it?”

And, of course, at the end of practice, I put my finger on my nose but I’m just standing there like an idiot. No one gathers around. “Hey!” I yell, but it sounds muffled, since I’m pressing down harder on my nose, as though that would help. “Gather round!” I finally bellow. I sound angry. They gather.

“Did we have FUN today?” I ask.

No one says anything. Finally from Sophie, my daughter, a mumble: “I guess.” Nice. This, from my own flesh and blood. Perhaps when we get home I will force her to count my stretch marks. “Fine. Go home.” I say to the team. And then, as an afterthought, as they are all walking away, “Hey, uh, good practice. See you Sunday.” Wow. Did I make even that sound mean?

The thing is, coaching is hard. Even Coach Sandra has a rough time of it sometimes. You have no idea how much time we spend during games, yelling things like “SARAH! YOU’RE FORWARD! FORWARD! NO! ON THE LEFT SIDE! UP HERE!” or, when they get the ball and start dribbling, “NO! THE OTHER WAY! THE OTHER WAY!” I’ve almost run into parents while pacing frantically down the side of the field. I think sometimes I even kick the air when I want the girls to kick the ball, just like I use my imaginary brakes on the passenger side of the car while Steve is driving.

It is also pretty tough to learn how you can spend half a practice coaching something really thoroughly, only to have them completely forget it a few days later. We taught them three basic things about throw-ins: put the ball behind your head, don’t lift your feet when you throw it, and throw it right away, before the other team is ready. We did this over and over and over. At practice, they had it down. Then during the game, I painfully watch Holly holding the ball forever on the sidelines, only to lift her foot when she finally does the throw-in. Sigh. And don’t misinterpret me -- I’m not complaining about other people’s kids- mine’s the worst for this. It’s like she thinks she gets a free pass and doesn’t have to listen or learn anything because Mom’s one of the coaches.

Once after a particularly rough week at practice I rented the Will Ferrell movie Kicking and Screaming, in which Ferrell is an ineffectual soccer coach. Just as I use parts of his holiday movie Elf as advice to guide me through Christmas (“…try to stick to the four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup”), I was hoping for some delightful coaching insights. Nope. You know how his team wins, at the end? He tells his team to forget everything he taught them during the season. They emerge triumphant. How is that supposed to help me? They already forget everything I teach them anyway.

Well, almost everything. Every once in a while Maya will take a smokin’ corner kick or Maddy will quickly do the perfect throw-in, and, temporarily, all is well with the world. I guess this is why coaches keep coming back year after year. I know it’s not for the money.

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