Coach Like You Mean It

I am a really good coach. In truth, I’m not an expert on soccer and we don’t win all of our games. But … well… let me just share a story.

Last Friday, we were facing an advanced travel team. I swear, it was exactly like the opening scene of a movie. Our opponents had fancy jerseys, they were fast as lightning, and they were unbelievably huge. We were completely outclassed in every way and we knew it.

But, we started the same way we always do. When I called ‘hands-in’, my boys gathered together. They put out their arms and we did our team shout. They have to do it in unison, no exceptions. And if it’s half-hearted, I make them do it again and again, until they mean it.

When they put their hands in, I told em, “Look, we’re going to lose this game. We’ve got no subs, and they’re awesome. But it doesn’t matter. We play as a team and we lose as a team. Do it like you mean it.” And they shouted, louder than ever.

Of course, our opponents crushed us. It was goal after goal after goal, from the moment the first whistle was blown. The score became so lopsided, that the other coach began to feel bad. He started telling his boys to slow down. ‘Pass 3 times first’ and then, ‘pass it back first.’ And eventually, he was screaming at them, ‘play keep away.’ But despite his efforts, it was a blowout.

At halftime, the other coach came over. He offered to share some of his boys to balance out the game. So, I called a huddle and I asked the boys, ‘what do you want to do?’ And you know what? They surprised me. Every one of them looked me in the eye and said, ‘nah, we got this coach.’ ‘Yeah! We need the practice!’ ‘We can do this.’ … Then they cheered and ran onto the field.

The game went exactly as expected, except for one thing. My boys played their hearts out. Despite the difference in size and skill, they fought with everything they had and never gave up. And after the game was over, I heard them talking. They were laughing and having fun. Despite losing, they were upbeat, almost triumphant. They were proud.

Years ago, when I first started coaching, I read a lot of books. All of them talked about the rules of soccer and techniques for practice. They taught you how to win. But almost none of them talked about the real purpose of a coach. See, I’m not trying to train the next David Beckham or Hope Solo. I’m trying to get these kids to find their courage. I’m trying to teach them to live life like they mean it, even when the odds are stacked against them. And that’s something I’m really good at.

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