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Overcoaching

Lessons from coaching my son's soccer team, carrying over. 

April 27, 2015
 

We’re three weeks into the Great Soccer Coaching Experiment. If you had asked me last week how it was going, you would have gotten a very different answer than what you’re getting today.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because of weather (it’s been raining an awful lot) and my family’s schedule (my teaching, my husband’s teaching and commute, my daughter’s ballet which included rehearsals and shows for a recent major production), I wasn’t able to have a practice before our first games. Practices are encouraged, but not required, nor are the players obligated to attend (in other words, you can’t bench a player for not coming to practice).

Our first game went about as well as to be expected, considering that the kids had never played together before and we were all just meeting each other. We don’t keep score in this league, but you can rest assured that the kids could tell that the other team put the ball in our net more frequently than we were able to put in it theirs. It was a promising start.

Then the second game happened. Somehow, I ended up with a team of small kids who all want to play defense. Or, they were so traumatized by the results of the first game they could only focus on trying to keep the other team from scoring, rather than trying to score ourselves. Defense might win championships, but spending 90% of the time in your own end when you’re six usually leads to goals going in.

I was a wreck. The worse it got, the more I tried to get the kids to move the ball up the field. Cajoling. Gesticulating. Encouraging. All three at once. I probably took it worse than the kids did, but all of my worse fears about agreeing to participate in this were coming true: I was failing them, horribly.

Later that week, the stars would align, and I would finally be able to hold a practice. I didn’t sleep all week. I researched drills, watched videos, and instead of feeling better about things, I felt worse. I had no idea what they were talking about most of the time, as the terminology was completely foreign to me. But one thing finally stuck out as I was trying to read diagrams of how drills should look/work: Avoid overcoaching.

I had fallen into that trap. Those poor kids, I thought, having to listen to me bellow out directions and advice for the whole game. In my anxiety, I overcompensated. I might not know much, but what I do know, I will ensure that I keep saying over and over again. I was overwhelming them.

I come from coaching a sport where overcoaching means something completely different; in swimming, you can overwhelm the swimmer with things to do or think about before a race or a particular drill, but once the kid puts their head in the water, there is little you can do as a coach. I’m not used to a sport where I can have a constant running coaching narrative throughout the whole game. I needed to remember to shut my mouth and let them play.

We practiced some dribbling drills, and I tried to be as pointed and specific as I could when giving them feedback. Could I do more when it comes to skills? Sure, but I figure if I can get the running towards the other team’s net with the ball, we’d be in better shape.

This Saturday’s game wasn’t played in the best circumstances. It was cold and raining. The kids were all in different colored raincoats over their jerseys. The other team had two coaches who actually seemed to know what they were doing. But, the kids played much better, and I coached much better, keeping my mouth shut, except to offer words of encouragement. I waited for stops in play to offer small pieces of advice individually.

I should have known this. From my years of teaching writing, I know that the worst thing you can do is to tell them to change all the things in an essay. But I also realized that I fall victim to this same tendency in my new role as a faculty developer; it’s really easy to overcoach a faculty member, especially when it comes to adapting new approaches or technologies into the classroom. I need to remember to breathe, take a step back, and shut my mouth

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