I am now coaching my son’s soccer team. When I registered him to play soccer, his first time participating in the sport, I had to volunteer for some sort of role with the team. I chose “Assistant Coach”; I knew that I could handle groups of 6-year-olds, and as an assistant, I would just have to repeat, loudly and enthusiastically, whatever the head coach told the kids to do. But when the league coordinator called asking, actually more like begging me, to be the coach because no one else had stepped up and volunteered, I agreed. Better that I be coach, than have no coach at all, and thus no team.
I have next to zero experience with soccer. I played when I was seven or eight, but I was terrible, I hated it, and stuck to aquatics. But perhaps more importantly, I understand the importance of a) a good technical base and b) a good coach to instill a love of the sport or activity. I fear that I can provide neither of those things, at least, neither of those things well.
It will be fine, I’m sure. When I did coach swimming, my favorite group to work with was the six-to-eight year olds. And I had a lot more than six kids in my group to deal with, not to mention the constant threat of drowning. But the biggest difference, I realized, was how prepared I was to coach those kids. And not just because I swam competitively and had extensive lifeguarding training.
One long, long winter when I was 16, every Sunday evening for four hours, I participated in a class that was all about how to teach swimming. We spent two hours in the classroom talking about theory of swimming and teaching, then we had to go into the water for two hours putting our work into practice, perfecting our own strokes while working on our classmates’ strokes, too. We started in September and ended sometime at the end of April, or even May. The person who taught the course (and put up with a bunch of grumpy, hormonal 16-year-olds week after week) is now a tenured professor and award-winning researcher, and I have to think that we trained him as much as he trained us. But, when I went out and taught those kids swimming lessons or swim team, I was prepared.
I was more prepared than I am now to coach soccer. And I was certainly more prepared than I was when I first stepped foot into a university classroom to teach.
Maybe it was all that training in and experience coaching that tricked me into thinking I was ready to be in the classroom. Maybe it was also that I had been told that I was a “natural” teacher and thus would be fine. Maybe it was because no one really talked about how to teach so I thought it didn’t warrant much thought on my part. But whatever the reason, I thought it was perfectly fine to teach my first class without any preparation in pedagogy.
And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long after the fact, after being in a faculty development role, to realize that I was, at 16, more prepared to teach in my chosen field at that time (swimming) than I was less than ten years later in my new chosen field (comparative Canadian literature).
And none of this helps me deal with the fact that I have to coach my son’s soccer team.