For the past three years I've been the head coach of my youngest daughter's soccer team. I do it for various reasons, but mainly because I want her to have a healthy first experience playing sports. I did the same thing with my other two daughters, and quite frankly I enjoy the heck out of it.
Being a coach is different from being a teacher, though. The kids all want to be there, the parents are actively involved, and we celebrate our successes (and failures) like a family together.
Remarkably, I've had the same group of girls for three years. We've played three seasons of outdoor soccer with Turlock Youth Soccer Association and two seasons of indoor soccer in downtown Turlock. It's hard to believe, but the team has been together since the girls were only 6 years old.
It hasn't been all about winning, however. We've had our ups and downs, like every team does.
During the first year of outdoor, we completely dominated; the second year, we did well, and last year we barely broke even. Hoping to become a little more aggressive and get back our edge, we started playing indoor soccer as well. Since there wasn't a recreational league available, we entered into an under-10-year-old competitive league. Needless to say, we got our bells rung every week by travel teams like Ajax, the Ceres Earthquakes and the Patterson Storm. We've gotten better, though, and when we play against similar-aged recreational teams next fall, we hope to be stronger for the experience.
Just because I coach doesn't mean I'm some sort of self-proclaimed soccer expert by any means. Quite the contrary, really. Sure, I played soccer as a kid, just like my daughters do now, but there are lots of people coaching who know a heck of a lot more about soccer than I do.
Knowledge, however, is not the only thing that makes for a good coach.
What matters more is the way a coach treats his players, how he gets them to develop their skills, and how he fosters their idea of teamwork.
I think the parents of the girls on our team share a similar philosophy. They know that everyone on the team gets playing time regardless of ability level, and no one's overly obsessed about winning. We're a recreational team with a recreational mentality at least for now.
I had a young girl's father approach me the other day about getting his daughter on our team. She'd been on our team a couple of years ago, but for some reason was placed elsewhere after that. He explained that although her new team was doing well, he didn't like the way his daughter's new coach was treating her. She hardly played, and all the coach seemed to care about was winning.
I reminded him that our record was nowhere near as good as that of his daughter's team, but he said he didn't care. He said he'd rather have his daughter play on a losing team and be valued than on a winning team and not be.
That, to me, is what coaching youth sports is all about.
Mello is a Modesto teacher and a former visiting editor with The Bee. Send comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.