I remember a youth coach saying one time, “there’s no losing, only learning.” I recall not thinking a lot of that at the time because he had to repeat the message of “win or learn” after every single loss.
As a coach now of young people, I have found myself saying some version of that to console players in recent years. I see the same look in their eyes as I probably had in mine. It’s understandable these kids would rather be winning than losing and there are times when nothing can ease the disappointment.
Age and perspective tells me, however, there’s a lot more to learn in a loss than in a win. If that’s true, the players I helped to coach in a soccer tournament last weekend are probably incredibly wise today. The two teams I coach with a friend each went 0-3 in the tournament. One team was outscored 27-3. The other team was outscored 22-5. It was a challenging weekend and both squads got destroyed.
Beckett doesn’t handle losing well. After consecutive routs on Saturday following a 5-3 loss Friday night, my 11-year-old kid was beside himself. I could see it in his face during and after each game. He needed to vent. As soon as he came off the field after the last game, he needed to vent. I told him, “not now,” let’s talk on the way home.
Before I could barely get a few words out about learning from this weekend and moving forward in a positive direction, he interrupted. I was expecting it. Truth be told, I wasn’t believing what I was peddling either.
Some of the points he made were. “What did I learn in a 10-0 rout? How about that 12-2 loss? It was painful, and I played terrible. I am embarrassed.”
It was one of those parenting moments requiring restraint. I needed to be mature. I couldn’t say what I was feeling. I had to refrain from pointing out he didn’t run as hard once we fell behind by a couple goals early. I couldn’t point out several of the players arrived three minutes before the game rather than the requested 30 minutes. I had to ignore all mistakes made on the field. I had to channel my inner George from the Seinfeld episode, “The Opposite.” I had to be the dad.
I wanted to agree with everything he said. It was all terrible. I wish I had those nine hours from that weekend back. He did underachieve individually, and we played against teams too good for us. We did get slaughter ruled – “mercy rule” it’s called now – in two of our six games. It affected my psyche too.
What I said was altogether different. It was an unfortunate tournament for us, but there were positives. You had a nice goal in the first game. You got to have candy with friends at the end of the game. You were able to play with your teammates at Alley Oops. We now have off Sunday, which is going to be a beautiful day. We can play outside and forget all about it.
Prior to coaching I had always heard playing was a lot easier than coaching. I know full well that’s true.
The amount of restraint and patience needed with coaching is something I never appreciated while playing sports in recreation leagues, in high school and in college.
When I was an athlete, the perfect coach to me was someone who could marry the appropriate messages while making the sport fun. There needed to be a balance between the positive and negative. Praise was a welcomed thing if deserved, but some constructive criticism is also appropriate when the time is right.
My only expectation as a coach is for each player to give max effort. I’ve learned that’s unrealistic when working with pre-teen kids. It would be wrong to assume they will always be entirely focused during practices (and sometimes even games). They will not always try their hardest. Playing hard and exerting maximum effort does not always represent fun to 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds. I’ve learned this the hard way and have tried to adjust my expectations.
I have to remember these kids, like adults, have a lot going on in their lives. Coming out to the soccer field or basketball court and working on drills – “boring” in their minds – is not fun. Therefore, adjustments to practice routines can sometimes be needed. When tweaks are made and the same foolishness and lack of effort exists is when I admit to losing my cool on occasion.
Another thing I’ve learned is I’m much more patient with other people’s kids than my own on this front. Beckett has pointed that out to me multiple times. I must always keep that in the forefront because that’s being unfair to him. I can privately expect more from him, but I can’t let it be known to everyone when he’s not giving his all.
A couple days after that forgettable indoor soccer tournament, Beckett asked, “well what do you think I should have learned from this weekend?’ I answered to always give 100% no matter the score.
He then went on a 10-minute verbal diatribe about how that’s impossible and unrealistic. Restraint was once again needed.