The Other Side of the Field

I returned the other evening from one of those fatherhood experiences that stays with you forever I am sure. We attended the Gunn-Baldursson (ironically- Gunn, no relation) Memorial Tournament in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I have been to this tournament as a coach for my kids’ teams for the past 4 or 5 years. This year was different as I had passed over my coaching duties to another passionate community coach, determined to give the girls a great weekend. I enjoyed every moment, sitting in my $15 chair baking in the sun but I also took away some lessons I believe will stick. As a coach, I had a lot of memories from this tournament, but I think the most important lessons came when I moved to the other side of the field.

 

As a youth soccer coach, there is pressure to win. Parents and kids want to win. Success is determined by many by the score on the game sheet and the wins-losses at the end of the year. I lived by this the last 16 years as a coach and I thought this was the most important thing. I agonized over line combinations, shapes for our team (4-4-2? 4-3-3?). I woke up in the middle of the night considering who should go in goal. I thought about parents and their reaction and I considered how a losing record would reflect on me as a coach. I yelled at kids, I played some more than others and I am not confident all kids I have coached had the best experience. This weekend, it hit me…hard, sitting on the sidelines.

For 99% of our kids, the scores, the wins, the titles will mean nothing in 20 years. I watch women’s 7-aside play and I challenge that any of them can recall how they placed in grade 8 at their club tournaments. I know they don’t recall how many goals they scored or how many times they beat the best team. What they will recall is the names of most of the kids on the team. They remember the Super 8 they stayed at, they remember the ice cream, the sun, the pool and they might remember the supportive coaches and parents.

How can we make the most important thing the most important thing? This weekend, I saw a girl miss the goal in a shootout and several players run to her support as she broke out in tears. This affected me. We think about skill as dribbling, shooting, scoring, defending. Should we not point out empathy and sportsmanship of those girls who run to support the losing keeper? Should we not call out and endorse the player who sits out much of the game but cheers relentlessly on the sidelines in support of a team goal? These skills are going to have a greater impact on their families and communities than sniping the winning goal in the bronze medal game.

We need to get real with ourselves. My girls are a statistical long-shot on playing for Team Canada or Team Nova Scotia. I plan on changing my focus. What would happen if I treated sport as a means of supporting their development as young women and future leaders rather than potential elite athletes? What would happen if we treated all the kids on the field with respect? What would happen if we treated our young officials and young coaches with admiration, appreciation and respect for developing our kids? What would happen if we stopped yelling at the 14 year old reffing an Under 12 soccer game? I think I know the answer and I know you do.

I left the field a different father this weekend. After the first game, we got in the truck and I said “you need to be in better position when the ball is played forward”. The second game, I said a little less. The third game, I started the truck and said “great game”. The last game, I started the truck, put it in drive and said “I’m proud of you and you must be exhausted. I will stop for some ice cream.”

 

I can’t get back the past 16 years of coaching mistakes but I can start a new chapter on the other side of the field.

 

 

7 thoughts on “The Other Side of the Field”

  1. What a powerful message! I think as coaches we all feel that pressure to win-but along the way those friendships, memories of fun, hardwork/success and even failure shape us to become who we are. Thanks for sharing!!

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    1. Hi Travis, I have printed this and I am going to post it in the Fredericton Recreation Department for all to read. This is a very thought fulfilling message for all parents, coaches and volunteers to absorb. Taking a step back and viewing from the sidelines is a very different perspective than the bench. The same goes for those who move from the sidelines to coaching. I just wish more had a similar view as the one you have recently found. I have coached in the past and my favorite spot was and still is, on the sidelines as a parent. With my 2 daughters 25 and 27 I still attend as many of their events as I possibly can and cheer them on. Once a sport mom always a sport mom, and yes still watching them at the amateur level.
      Connie

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  2. Well said Travis. I hope that this gets shared with all parents of children in sports, at all levels. What I saw this weekend, the interaction between opposing players (even in a medal game), the hugs and high fives from keepers in a shootout, made me proud as parent that our message about good sportsmanship and having fun is on display.
    And, next time we travel for an away game, I’m coming with you…..as long as we stop for ice cream!

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  3. Thank you for taking the time to write about and share your experience. I especially appreciate your inclusion of sideline treatment of officials. We are experiencing a shortage of youth officials in our province due to the pressure they are under to perform as if they were FIFA officials. Education and support for our players, coaches, and officials are vital for positive growth in all our youth programs, no matter the sport.

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  4. I came across this post on a facebook share from a friend. First, thanks for being honest no one improves if everyone hides with their heads in the sand. As a former player of several competitive sports (even represented NS at the national level twice, cheers!) I wanted to share my point of view. I think it’s sad that you coached so long and only now came to this important realization. Competitive team sports are one of the best things you can do for a kid, particularly girls – not because there is any hope of them becoming an elite athlete (and newsflash, making ‘team NS’ doesn’t make you an ‘elite athlete’ in the grand scheme of competitive sports) but because of the experience. You learn to push yourself, have faith in yourself, have faith in a coach who has faith in you, you learn teamwork – which includes working with players who don’t care and/or aren’t very good, you learn how to deal with miserable coaches and players (SO imp. bc that’s life – coaches/players turn into bosses/coworkers) and you learn that if you work hard, really, really hard you can achieve most goals you set for yourself – but also, you learn that sometimes life simply isn’t fair and sometimes no matter how hard you try that sometimes the call doesn’t go your way and you need to learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get over the pity party and move on. That’s what competitive sports can do for you – and if you’re lucky, you have a ton of fun along the way too. Shout out to all my amazing (and not so amazing coaches) along the way for providing me with all of this – I credit my participation in sport for a huge chunk of getting me where I am today.

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  5. Hey Travis, Great story and one I relate to as I also coached my daughter’s soccer team and all the observations and emotions you experienced happen to many. Kate is now 31 so the reflection through time provides a new perspective. I believe in balance. The goal to increase skills and work to win should be balanced with sports ethics and empathy for those who struggle with skill and lose. Don’t feel guilt but observe and grow.

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