Why I Coach Its Not to Win
by Vivian I. Zumstein
My soccer team plays its first game on Saturday. A coach for the last seven seasons, I have steeped in preparation, both practical and mental, for over a month.
Weeks ago checking my coaching equipment, I discovered (yet again) I made a mistake when I came home from the final spring game, threw the soccer bag in a corner and forgot it. Balls had gone flat. A distinctive odor wafted from the nylon pinnies worn during practices: three-month-old sweat aged to perfection in the heat of my garage. Mud streaked the multi-colored goalie jersey I use to entice kids to play that often-thankless position.
Today seven pumped-up balls rattle around the back of my old Volvo station wagon like marbles in a box. The washer removed the stench from the pinnies but had limited success with the stubborn stains on the goalie jersey. No matter. A little mud only enhances the shirts ability to attract eight-year-old boys.
Practical matters complete, its now time for my pre-season attitude check.
I am disheartened. Only four of my veteran players returned. After looking forward to teaching more advanced skills, I must now spend another season covering basics with new players. To make matters worse, an enthusiastic, but small and inexperienced boy is begging to play goalie. It doesnt look like a winning season.
This is the moment I grab myself by the scruff of the neck and force myself to reflect on why I coach. It isnt to win though my competitive nature makes this truth hard to accept. At bottom, winning in recreational sports is mostly a matter of luck in drafting the right kids. Whats more, many of us parents overrate the importance of winning to young children.
I remember my seven-year-old son after a particularly humiliating loss. Shuffling across the field, his head down, he looked miserable. Slipping a consoling arm around him, I murmured, How ya doin? He looked up, a smear of chocolate frosting decorating his gap-toothed grin. Great! We got doughnuts.
No, I dont coach to win. I coach because I believe coaches lead children to far more than victory. A coach teaches sportsmanship, respect, discipline and teamwork: all crucial skills children must acquire to grow into successful adults. Wins and losses are quickly forgotten. Life skills are not.
Most of all, I coach because I enjoy children. Many past players, not just skillful ones, have left indelible marks on my heart.
Theres Michael, the smallest on the team, staggering under the weight of my soccer bag as he lugged it to my car after every practice. Even now, three seasons since he played for me, Michael still trots over insisting on carrying my gear. And shy, talented Bobby. Reluctant to greet me in front of his buddies, he acknowledged me in the school hallway with a discreet flick of his hand and the hint of a smile flitting across his lips. But most of all theres Megan. A tiny girl intimidated by the big boys during games, she hugs me every time we meet. Once she introduced me to her friends with shining eyes and a dramatic flourish of her arms. This, she announced, is my soccer coach!
So, at Saturdays game, I will remember those children and others, as I pull the multi-colored goalie jersey over that enthusiastic boys head. It will engulf his small frame, hanging more like a dress than a shirt, but his blue eyes will sparkle. Ill put in my best fullbacks to protect him.
If we win, great. If we lose, who cares? Many things in life are more important than winning soccer games as I must remind my competitive soul time and time again throughout the season.