The Grace of Coaching

David Quo thinks that he was an ass at his kid’s soccer game. Why? Because his kid is far from becoming the next David Beckham, the kid doesn’t always listen to the coach and he thinks he did a good job when he kicks the ball into his own net.

And all that annoys David–who’s far from an athlete himself.

But I share the following viewpoint with him:

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

I REALLY want to say, ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” I want to give him a hug and tell him how much I love him and how great he is actually doing at this, his first game of any sort. I really do want to say those things. But I don’t. I just sit there with the staggering knowledge I just told him he did badly.

I used to coach kids at a summer came. I would add that some of these kids were so afraid of the ball that they’d run away from a ROLLING ball. The key is getting them to believe that you aren’t giving up on them–but also (and more important) to not praise them when they don’t get it right.

Some examples:
“Good try but how about this way?” “Look, here’s what you’re doing wrong–not THAT way, it’s THIS way–now you try! Nope, try again. Good job!”

None of those voices can be in a raised tone. In fact they should be hushed tones mostly, with an added “You can do it, I know you can.”

One of the most awesome moments of my life was when a 6 year old afraid-of-the-ball-for-far-too-long shot his first basket. It was grandma moses style and it took him 20 attempts—but it was just the two of us and watching Mark Kissel’s face light up was worth every second of hard work. I remember him and his smile and how I held him over my head like the Stanley Cup and we ran around the gym together and grabbed a snack right after that basket.

Wanna know what happened next? He wanted to go practice some more. And he made 7 more baskets.

Kids want to get it right and improve their skill and they want mentors and coaches who guide them firmly and not just lie to their faces and tell them that they are great when they know they suck. The key is gentle firmness as well as patience. Instruction doesn’t have to be angry or browbeating. But it also doesn’t have to be superficial.

Not every kid deserves a trophy or a ribbon. But what every kid deserves is the respect of a coach who takes the time to make sure that they are being instructed properly and that they believe in them. Even when kids lose (I cried hard after that first little league loss—we lost 27-0. You’d think I would have caught on after the 3rd inning when we were down 13-0.) they need to have the support of a coach–and their parents. “It’s OK to lose. We all lose. Indeed we can’t win them all. We’re gonna lose again. They key is doing your best and pushing yourself to do better next time.”

Those were the words of Tom McKineley, my first little league coach.

And they are indeed words to live by that I have not forgotten for nearly 40 years now.

Now go find a kid and have a catch. And make sure he doesn’t throw like a girl.

And make sure she doesn’t either.

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