If I learned anything from my year of coaching this year, it was that a coach must have or be willing to develop patience. Don’t get me wrong, through every frustrating moment there were double the rewards, however to be able continuously reach, speak, and connect with your players, a coach must remain patient. A team will always take on the characteristics of their coach, especially a team of five and six year olds.
I went into the season with a mindset and challenge that I was not going to be a coach who is consistently raising their voice, letting their frustrations show, and negative. I wanted to set the tone of positivity, encouragement, and create an environment where the players could learn and grow in their skills and abilities and develop a love for the game. While I knew going in that this wouldn’t be an easy task, it took constant reminders, consistent refocusing, and extreme internal strength to achieve, but it was completely worth it and necessary in who I want to be as a coach.
There are multiple areas in which a coach much possess patience. In the following few paragraphs I will attempt to outline just a few areas in which I found it necessary. As always, if you can think of other areas, or have any discussion points or thoughts, please feel free to comment and let’s open a dialogue.
Being a coach of “instructional” level players who were five and six years old, it was important to show patience through the repetition of giving instructions, placing players in positions, and answering questions. We will start with the latter first. If you are a parent or have ever been in a position of influence of this age group, you will understand the, “Coach, Coach how much longer is the game.” Or there’s, “Coach, can I play goalie?” Or one of my favorite’s, “Coach, how much longer until I can get a drink?” It is an extreme juggling act in how to answer these questions. You must answer with a smile and remain calm and patient, because the last thing you want to do is squash their excitement and energy. Once you crush their spirit, which is their being at this age, you have lost them for good. I am big on not lying to or leading any of my players on to believe something that’s not going to happen, so my responses were often blanket statements such as, “We have a while left to play, get in there and get the ball,” “No goalie tonight,” and “only a couple of minutes left, keep up the good work.”
At this level, the kids are just learning the sport, they are still grasping concepts, understanding positions, and figuring out how everything works. Some of my players were first year players, but even for my second year players this held true. I found myself always repeating something that I had just said and giving out the same instructions I had already given at least twice before. The key here is to again be patient and be consistent. Deliver the same message over and over again, as many times as it takes in the same tone and language as you gave it the first time. Be thankful that they are asking, that means they are interested and care. Their little minds are on overload with things they are trying to remember and it is hard to focus for them. Try to break it down for them and make things simple. But through it all don’t get frustrated, because they will be the first once to sense your frustration and because they don’t want to let you down, they will stop asking questions for fear of upsetting you.
I am a results oriented person, and I, like much of our society today, need to see results immediately. As a coach, this will almost never happen and I can now say it is best to look at the season as a whole or one game at a time. You will not see improvement in your players overnight, things take practice and repetition for them to be learned and developed as a skill and habit. As a coach, this is frustrating and can be upsetting because you can feel hopeless and like you aren’t making a difference and you aren’t reaching your players. Remain patient, and give it time. Game after game, week after week, little by little the improvement started to show. Both individually and as a team, growth and learning was happening. To see your players start to “get it” and do things instinctively, rather than being instructed to do it is worth the short term frustration. I can confidently say that each player on my team is a better player today, than they were when we started the season. It wasn’t easy, but it certainly was worth it.
Parents, out of love for their kids, can be frustrating in their own ways. As a coach, when you agree to coach, you not only get the kids, but you get their parents as well. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of parents to work with, however with anything there were little things that would happen that made it more difficult to carry out my duties as coach. Knowing that I would be responsible for 11 players all by myself, I knew that it would be important to be as organized as I could, so come practice and game time, I could put all my efforts and energy into the kids. As a coach, it is imperative to communicate effectively and timely with all parents, as if you don’t, it will make your life much harder. However, where the frustrating part comes in, is that not all parents see the value in returning that communication, especially in letting you know if their child won’t be at a particular game. Each game I would put together a lineup, and almost every game, there would be at least one player not be there that I didn’t have prior notice on. This left me scrambling at the last minute trying to make changes to the lineup, that not only made sense, but were also fair to all the players. Patience is important here, as you can’t punish the kids, it’s not their fault they didn’t communicate they weren’t going to be there. It’s not their fault they didn’t know what was going on in their family schedule. In the short term, I would find myself upset and frustrated with parents, but to be successful you need to let it go, and not dwell on it, and realize there are much more important things, like the players that are there.
Everyone has their own style, their own way of doing things. And this statement holds true for coaches. Not all coaches coach alike, think alike, or even do things alike. At this level of soccer, coaches not only are coaching, but are out on the field refereeing as well. When you are working with another coach who may have a different approach than you, it can get frustrating. It can be upsetting. I am telling you not to let that show, the kids will pick up on it. This isn’t fair to them to develop an opinion based on your opinion of someone. Plus they just want to play the game, they don’t care about all the specifics. So, I say to you, remain patient, remain positive, your actions are being watched and duplicated by those that you lead.