The Good Coach

will ferrell soccer

In most of life’s situations, it’s fairly easy to see what we SHOULD have done…….

after we’ve already messed up.

When it comes to the trial and error nature of parenting, we find plenty of situations where we don’t really figure out how the heck to do something……

until it’s no longer necessary to do it.

Such is the nature of coaching in youth sports.

Three short months ago, I watched my daughter drive away to college four hours away.  I felt like the dad in the Subaru commercial talking to his little girl in the driver’s seat.

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I choked back tears as I gave her simple parting instructions, knowing that I would no longer be a powerful daily influence in her life.  What kind of influences would she have in her life in college?

Today her mother and I watched her final soccer game of the season.  On a cold, rainy day in Circleville, Ohio, after a hard-fought loss we parted ways once again with her mother choking back tears this time.

Macy had a long bus ride back to Knoxville ahead for her.  And we would have loved to have her home with us for the weekend.  But these were tears of joy (mostly).

Macy and her coaches had stopped by our car to chat after the game.  Smiles and laughter masked the exhaustion of a 90 minute game.  A great player/coach relationship was easy to see.  Mutual respect.  Comfort, not fear.

They walked away in the cold rain.  One of her coaches put his hand on her shoulder, just like dads do to their daughters after tough losses.  My wife, through teary eyes, just said, “look, Karrick.”

I know who influences my daughter.

Macy loves her coaches.  She loves her teammates.  It’s plain to see.  It’s a blessing that we’re so thankful for.

If you are a parent of a kid involved in youth sports, it doesn’t matter if they’re 7 or if they’re 17, don’t underestimate the value of having a coach that your child loves and respects.  And don’t ignore the treasure of having a coach that treats your kids with love and respect.

Macy isn’t exactly a kid anymore and this is college soccer I’m talking about.  But it’s an experience that is either going to be good or bad, depending on the direction of the leadership.  They won 2 games and it was as enjoyable as any other “successful” winning seasons she’s had at other levels.

If you’re a coach, whether it’s your first try at pee wee soccer or your tenth year of middle school basketball, don’t forget why you’re there.

Coaches are there to lead, to influence kids.  Winning is a by-product of leading the right way and teaching the right things.

Every team that you coach isn’t going to possess enough talent to win in a given season, but every team you coach is made up of kids that are going to be adults someday.

Win or lose, what are you teaching them along the way?

1)  Plan practices well.  Give clear instructions.  Be consistent.  Build credibility.

2)  You are under a microscope.  Do and say the right thing….always.  Apologize when you’re wrong.  Be a positive influence…..always.

3)  Don’t “over-coach”.  Make sure your spoken words have value to your players.  If you talk too much, players quit listening.

4)  Make sure your players know you care about them.  If they think you don’t care about them, they quit listening.

5)  Teach them the value of giving maximum effort, every practice, every game.

6)  Look into the future.  Be bold enough to make decisions based on building character and teaching fundamentals, work ethic, teambuilding, and accountability.  See the bigger picture and don’t cave in to outside pressure to “win now”.

7)  Keep all players engaged in practice at all times.  All players should have equal opportunity for improvement in practice.  What they choose to do with those opportunities may determine how many game minutes they get (depending on age and competition level).  “If you don’t like where you’re at, do something about it.”

8)  Motivate!  Great coaches keep their players excited about playing.  They encourage.  Their players love and respect them.  They don’t fear them.  They want to do well for these coaches.  Be intentional each day to catch your players doing something right and praise them for it.   Tasks not done well are teaching moments, not shaming moments (see 9).

9)  Mistakes happen.  Kids can’t play in fear of their coach and they can’t play in fear of making mistakes.  Not giving a maximum effort or listening to the coach is not a mistake, it’s a choice.

10)  It’s ok to yell.  It’s not ok to yell AT kids.  Speak loud enough to get a team’s attention.  Don’t scare the life out of them (especially younger ones).  Never single out a kid and go Bobby Knight on them.

It’s nice to learn from your own past mistakes.  It may be even better to learn from simply watching somebody else doing it right.  Keep your eyes open.

I’ve coached plenty of games in the past, but I’m not presently coaching anything.  If given the opportunity again, I’ll welcome the chance to LEAD more and coach less.

Travel Sports and Sunday Games Are More Satanic Than Kiss Albums

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I’ll admit it.  Three of my kids have played travel sports.  They even played on Sundays.  Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row.  Shriek!

Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James.  And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often.  Right?  No, not at all.

No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents.  It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.

Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot.  Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.

I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.

When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures?  When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose?  Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?

Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time.  The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless.  The absence from church services is temporary.  But the importance placed on faith must be constant.

That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it.  The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays.  It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.

Teach well.  Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important.  Keep your eyes open for teaching moments.  As your kids get older, the moments become clearer.  Are you prepared for them?  And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?

A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday.  Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game.  Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.

Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities.  Let the choice be hers to make.  Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.

Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”

Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways.  But they are temporary.  Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.

“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.”  The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.

And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary.  A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.

Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:

“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight.  I’m going to church.”

“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year.  I’m going on a mission trip.”

“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games.  I’m going to church camp.”

Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning.  It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.

Play hard.  Have fun.  Watch the scales.

The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.

Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.

 

Can’t We All Just Match?

Great exchange from Airplane,

“Maybe we oughta turn on the search lights now?”  Rex Kramer’s response, “No, that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

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Who knew this classic line could have such real life applications.  I find myself quoting it often.  It serves as a great reminder: do the right thing instead of simply doing what you think others are expecting you to do.  The key there is that God provides the definition of what is the right thing and I cannot take it upon myself to alter it.  Otherwise, it’s a healthy exercise to always ask why and to figure out who you’re trying to please: self, others, or God.

Maybe I see myself as a poster boy for “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, refusing to conform to superficial expectations.  Living for God does not require that we look or sound a certain way.  I dress like a bum, talk like a hillbilly, and rarely shave (and I’m probably guilty of intentionally making it too easy for others to misjudge me by appearances).   Maybe in the same way we judge our youth by their appearances?

You can’t see someones heart by looking at their hair, clothes, tattoos, or nose rings.

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Or in this case, by their loud shoes and socks.  First impression as a coach:  you’re not wearing those loud colors that scream “look at me!” like a Chad Johnson touchdown celebration.  Teams should match (why?……ok, just because Bobby Knight is rolling over in his grave and he’s not dead yet……ok not a good reason).  OK, these are acceptable, because I do know these young men, and I do get a glimpse of their heart each time we’re together to practice or play.

Character, integrity, and intelligence cannot be measured by outward appearance.

And life is just too short to worry about matching.

Enjoy Your Kids in Every Season

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Great commercial.

Always brought a tear to my eye. Enjoy your kids, now!

This dad in the commercial, that’s the kind of dad I’ve tried to be.

Slung myself headfirst into my two daughters’ athletic adventures.

Volunteer to coach sports i know nothing about (soccer)….check.

Never miss a soccer game, basketball game, or cross country meet (until it reaches the point of being two places at once)…..check.

Coaching middle school basketball for three years, getting “bonus time” with one or both of my girls
and getting to know and love their friends as well as the families of their friends….check.

But this commercial I’ve seen so many times before takes on a new meaning now, a whole new set of twisting emotions.

You see, my oldest daughter is a senior in high school now, going through the year-long tour of “last-times.”

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She didn’t just play in her final soccer game last week, she played her last soccer game with her sister.

Best friends, sidekicks, teammates.

At the completion of the game, I told a friend that it sure is a funny feeling, knowing that I’ve watched her play for the last time.

He told me that life is about seasons, that before I know it I’ll be walking her down the aisle at her wedding.

After someone finally pried my fingers away from his neck before unconsciousness set in, I knew that he was right.

Seasons change. For little sister (sophomore) it’s a painful realization that her best friend will be going away to college soon. Her mentor and role model in
sports and life will no longer be constantly by her side. A new season awaits.

For a dad? This is the one that really clobbers me. It becomes increasingly difficult for dads, as daughters go through their high school years, to “connect”
with their daughters. Maybe it’s harder to find common ground. I struggle to start conversations or keep them going because I don’t ask the right questions or give the right answers.

Possibly I long for simpler times before cell phones, Twitter, Instagram, and snapchats.

Simpler times when I could elicit more than a one word answer because I perhaps knew the right questions to ask.

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Sports. As long as they’re competing and playing games, it’s one more small way to connect with my little girls.

And maybe it’s a way to delay or cheat the reality of them not being my little girls any more..

The commercial takes me back. Hundreds, if not thousands of sporting events.

All those times playing in the yard, at the gym, at the soccer field.

Road trips. Basketball games, soccer games, cross country meets, track meets.

Celebrations. Success. Disappointments. Losses. Proud moments just watching them compete and be their best.

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Soon they’ll run their last cross country meet together.

Daddy’s girls. Playing games.

When they stop playing games, they won’t be my little girls anymore.

There is joy in sports.

But true peace, hope, and joy come from knowing Jesus as your savior.

This is the greatest common bond I share with my girls. serving the same Lord.

Deep down, I know it’s true. Sure, I will always fondly remember their days of youth.

But I love to witness the strength of their character today…….and look forward to the ways

they will use it to impact this world with the good news of Jesus!

Next season, please……maybe……I guess…….if I have to.

No, I won’t be one of THOSE dads!

Age 4.  That first time your son or daughter takes the dive into the world of sports.  Soccer, T-Ball, Basketball, Flag Football, anything.  You may think you know what you’re doing as a parent as this journey starts.  But really, you haven’t a clue.  Not only do you have no clue how you’re going to guide your children through this journey, you can’t even begin to guess how they are going to react and perform as they enter the world of competition.  Ten years ago, my timid, daisy-picking child took the soccer field for the first time and hyperventilated from the excitement and exertion of competition.  Rushing back to the present, it’s easy to see the trial & error, missed steps, overreactions, and lessons learned along the journey.  And like so many other things in life, when you finally have a grip on it (what is beneficial, what is healthy, what has value vs what is worthless), you discover that you are no longer doing it anymore.  It is too late to put into practice all that you have learned on your journey.  Hopefully this list will provide at least some value to some of those people in the opening stages of the crazy world of youth sports….before it’s too late.

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1)  Never pass up a chance at home to pass baseball or football, shoot baskets, or kick a soccer ball with your kids.  And don’t wait for them to ask.  They will rarely turn down your offer as long as you “play” with them instead of “coaching” them.
2)  Don’t speak critically of coaches in the presence of children.  Kids’ prospects of having fun and improving are crippled when they are convinced that their coach is clueless.
3)  Our kids aren’t gonna be the next Lebron James or Peyton Manning.  Lighten up.  When we cultivate a fun experience and a love of the game at younger ages, they have a greater chance of developing their own high level of dedication as they grow older.
4)  Coaches aren’t perfect or brilliant or perfectly brilliant.  If they were, they wouldn’t be coaching our kids.  Usually they are volunteering for a job that nobody else wanted.  If they’re paid, they’re making about a $1 an hour for their time and effort.  Be patient and forgiving of their mistakes.  Set realistic expectations.
5)  Look for opportunities to teach your kids the importance of effort, attitude, and good practice habits, as well as being responsible for their own success/fun/outcomes.  As kids progress through middle school and high school years, the main thing that separates one player (or team) from another is A) how much time they spent developing skills on their own time and   B) how much effort they choose to put into organized practice time.
6)  Bite your tongue until it bleeds.  Don’t tell your kids what they did wrong or what they could do better…..unless they ask.  This rule applies especially to the car ride after a game.  Tell them what they did well.  Tell them how you love to watch them play.
7)  Never forget how much your approval means to them.  Cheer and encourage every chance you get.  It’s a miserable experience for kids who seem to play to please their parents…..when they begin to feel they can’t possibly please them no matter what they do.  They will never have a perfect game or practice.  Don’t make them feel like they should.
 8)  Don’t coach from the sidelines or bleachers.  Kids’ minds are blown by trying to play a fast-paced game (that they possibly don’t understand yet)  while they are trying to sort out whether to listen to their coach or their dad or mom.  Kids learn best in game situations simply by playing, not by over-coaching.  Practice time is instruction time.
9)  Teach them to not make excuses. Never blame a referee.  Quality of refereeing is almost always better than the quality of play.  Critical talk of referees in front of children is quickly interpreted to mean that a loss is somebody else’s fault.  (So talk about the refs when the kids aren’t around and choose your outbursts wisely….we all have them)
10)  Winning isn’t the most important thing, but doing your best is.  Kids have to know that it’s never ok to half-way do anything.  It’s not a good idea to ever tell kids they played bad, but sometimes it’s necessary to find the right words to let them know that their level of effort could have been better.

Obviously, I have learned all these things the hard way (by screwing them up).  So if anybody has more to share, I would love to hear them since I am still learning.

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Oh yeah, MOST IMPORTANT ONE- for extra points
11)  Every game isn’t the end of the world.  Watch, cheer, encourage…………..and enjoy the funnest years of your life.  It will be over too soon and then you’ll be back at home , bored and looking for the Beverly Hillbillies on Netflix.