There are some things you understand and appreciate more as you age. The impact that childhood coaches have on our development, the lessons they teach us, and the role they play in shaping the person we become is often only realized when we are no longer being coached and are stepping into new roles, whether it be behind the bench or the other side of the field as parents.
For me, it was witnessing a children’s soccer game ending 18 to 0 that brought a clear understanding and renewed gratitude for what my soccer coaches taught me between the ages of 8 and 22.
It wasn’t the behaviour of the children that made me reflect on what I learnt when I was their age, playing in my first season on a full-sized field. Rather, it was the behaviour of their coaches. For the winning team, the coaches who kept their top goal scorers on the field for the entire game, instructing them to keep scoring until the last minute. The coaches that, despite the other team being short two players and down early on, never changed their own team’s tactics or formation.
18 to 0. Seeing that score makes us wonder, how did that happen? However, the more important question is what did the players learn from that? Or maybe, what didn’t they learn?
When I started playing competitive soccer, I played for the strongest team in my division for three summers – winning the league three seasons in a row, only losing one game.
Despite our team’s strength, only once did we hit 10 goals. We could have easily done so more than a handful of times every single year, but, unlike the team of 12 year olds that won 18-0 last week, we were fortunate to have coaches that valued much more than scoring goals, and for that, I would like to say thank you.
For showing us the importance, and strength in teamwork. From piggy back races in practice, to giving high fives for assists and goals, and buying ice cream for everyone when we scored off a header – we learnt to want to work together and for each other, putting our team before ourselves.
For teaching us that the best way to compete is with respect. For changing our line up if we were leading by more than five goals, and showing us that it is best to say no more than thank you to the referee and great game to the other team. We saw you respecting our opponents, each other and all officials, and learnt to do the same.
For instilling the importance of fairness amongst ourselves, and for everyone on the field. From telling us to sprint off the field for our teammate to go on, or building a starting line-up based on attendance and effort at practice – we learnt that the minutes we played or number of goals we scored weren’t the most important parts of the sport.
Finally, and most importantly, for making sport fun.
We don’t remember the scores of soccer games, and scoring the most goals didn’t help us become the best version of ourselves. We do however, remember all the fun we have.
Later, when we step behind the bench or start cheering on the other side of the field, we want for our children to have just as much fun with their teammates, playing in fairness and with respect, without caring how that may look on a scoreboard.
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