From playing to coaching

No bounce.

Proper spin. 

Proper pace. 

Front foot.

Check your shoulders.

Check your shoulders!

What’s next? 

What’s next?

What’s next?

You gotta know what’s next!

Because every detail to a pass matters.

Eighteen months ago, I started coaching an under-15 boys team with
South Bronx United, a non-profit club in New York City. We have three coaches in our group; we all have full-time jobs, so we share the duties. After 10 years of collegiate and professional soccer, it was my first step into the coaching world. 

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started with the team. I felt good about the Xs and Os, but I quickly learned that’s only a small fraction of the job. I’d like to do a better job this year of sharing my experiences as a young coach -- writing them down forces me to reflect on them, and there might be a person or two out there who can learn from another youth coach’s missteps. (I haven’t found many places on the internet to read first-hand stories from youth coaches.) Here’s where we will start... 

The toughest part of coaching this year was never backing down from the belief that every detail to a pass matters.

If you aren’t working to do every detail right, you’re limiting your chance to win. There’s right and wrong. There’s good and bad. Can wrong succeed? Can bad win? Yes. We see it all the time. Soccer is both horrible and amazing like that. But right technique and good habits win more often than sloppy and bad ones. 

Hold your spot. Be brave. Check your shoulder. What’s next? Front foot. Play!

I’m relentless with our players about it. It’s my biggest source of angst as a coach. It’s the same angst I felt, and struggled with, as a player. Holding others accountable, if you’re a semi-normal person, sucks. There’s no power trip to be enjoyed; it should register that you’re making the person uneasy. The difficult part of life is that with discomfort comes growth. But it shouldn’t necessarily feel good to push people toward that suffering. There should be a natural resistance to causing someone that pain. It’s even more difficult when they are children. It doesn’t feel great to look at a 15-year-old and tell him that he needs to do more. 

Faster. Faster. It’s too slow. You need to be better!

I’m still learning about this sport, but there’s one thing I’m pretty positive about: You have to hold the bar high. Players meet the bar they are given. If you give players the leniency to wander an inch, they will take a mile. But if you hold the bar high, they will get there. 

It just takes a leap of faith as a coach to continue to hold that bar above them. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten on the subway after practice and felt crappy. Did I need to push them like that? Did I need to hold the bar so high for a teenager? 

I’m pretty sure that the answer is Yes. We all want people to get pushed — as long as it's done in a respectful way. The feeling of growth is empowering and addictive. We can’t fulfill our potential without that support. The only thing worse than getting pushed is not getting better. 

Ultimately, too, our kids did meet the bar. Their growth was remarkable; the soccer they played at the end was fantastic. 

As a coach, I love the word “brave.” You can’t play soccer unless you’re brave. I’m learning it’s the same as a coach. When you hold the bar high, you also have to accept the responsibility that comes with it. You can’t be weak because you’re scared of the conflict. The angst is the coach’s cross to carry; my pain to assume. I can’t limit their growth because I struggle with it.  

With that said, I have clear points of growth for myself. I need to do a better job of:

  • delivering the messages, both in tone and timing, and mixing in positive reinforcement.

  • connecting with the kids on a human level before and after practice, so they know that the feedback comes from a place of love and not disapproval.

  • knowing which players like what type of feedback

If you’ve been through this mental process in your own coaching experiences, I’ll take any advice you have.