What do you do when adversity strikes or you are in a situation that you don’t like? Always remember to put first things first.
I had recently been fired from the high school basketball coaching position that I thought I would have for the remainder of my coaching career. Our family moved to a new community, although it was somewhat familiar as my wife grew up there and it was a town that we competed against in sports each year. I had no definitive plans for coaching. I had been contacted about various coaching positions but we made the decision to move based on what we believed was best for our family. I did not want to chase a coaching position and put our family in a position where we would struggle, so we put first things first and did what we believed was best for our family. We put our faith in God that if I was meant to coach again the opportunity would present itself.
Our boys had both played soccer previously so we signed them up for the soccer league in the new community, as well as our daughter who was just now old enough to play. I was looking forward to sitting on the sidelines and telling my kids, "I love watching you play," after each game. As the beginning of the season approached I received an e-mail that the league needed an extra coach for the division one of my sons played in. I was somewhat intrigued as I still had a passion for coaching, even though I had gone through a terrible situation. Soccer is a sport I have little knowledge about as I never played soccer as a kid and my overall experience with it was limited. I did coach my son's team of 4 and 5-year olds a few years ago. However, this is the age where you pretty much roll the ball out, hope that no one gets hurt, and make sure you have enough snacks and drinks for everyone. Also, I was the new guy in town so I waited and figured they would have someone else step up.
The next week a second e-mail popped up. The director said that if they could not find another coach they would have 25 players on each team. Even though this division did play the full 11 players at a time, this meant that some kids would get to play less than half of each game. I knew my son would not like that and it probably would not be a great experience for all the kids. Again, I went back and forth with myself over the pros and cons. Like I said, I really enjoy coaching and working with kids, but I was really frustrated by all of the "extracurricular activities" that go with being a head coach. After the third e-mail asking for someone to volunteer to coach, I finally relented and told the director that I would do it. We had a coaches meeting a few days later and started practice the next week. Here we go.....
Things started well. Even though 8 and 9-year olds can test your patience, I enjoyed working with the kids and helping them improve. I was trying to learn more about soccer and started thinking about strategies for putting us in position to be the best we could be. Our first game rolled around and we won 3-1. The kids played great and it was fun. I later found out that one of our opponent’s best players was out of town and had missed the game. We lost the next game 2-1 and then were set to face what I thought was the best team in the division.
It was my philosophy that every player should learn to play different positions. So in addition to making sure each player received approximately the same amount of playing time, I spent about an hour each Friday night drawing up the lineups and putting the kids in positions. I had a general idea of where each kid liked to play and I usually let them play there at least one rotation. However, I would also put them in other positions so they could be out of their comfort zone. The only position I did not make them play was goalie. For our third game against the best team I decided to shift to a more defensive lineup. I thought that if we stacked enough people back on defense that we could at least stop them from scoring and could maybe tie them 0-0. The result was a 7-0 loss for our team that left me frustrated. I was not frustrated by losing, but rather that our kids seemed to be unaggressive and not enthusiastic. My wife even commented on my body language after the game.
I started going back to the ideas that I had been learning in the last few years and had really helped me grow. Anything that happens to me is in my best interest and an opportunity to learn and grow. How can I use this situation to become a better person? I realized I had been focused on winning, or at least trying to tie, and I forgot to put first things first. I said my objectives were for the kids to give their best effort, have a great attitude, treat other people well, and try to learn as much as they could so they could improve. Part of my frustration was also constantly being bombarded by the players asking me if they could play a certain position. In fact after that 7-0 defeat I told them that they could no longer tell me they wanted to play a certain position unless I asked them.
I finally realized that maybe they were not aggressive because I was putting them in positions they did not like and I had changed our strategy and they were confused as to what I wanted. I decided that at the next practice we would practice a new strategy. When I subbed them into the game, I would simply tell them who to go in for and they would be able to play any position they wanted to. This would save me from having to spend so much time drawing up lineups and I thought they would give a better effort if they were able to play where they wanted.
Unfortunately, our practice for the week was rained out. So after our warm-ups before our next game I gathered the kids together and asked them what position they wanted to play. I explained that they could play whatever position they wanted to. We had generally lined up with 3 forwards (offense), 4 midfielders (offense and defense), 3 defenders (defense), and a goalie. I had no idea how this would work out. We could end up with 10 forwards and one goalie. But I had a good feeling that they would give a better effort as they didn't have to worry about "strategy". The looks on their faces when I explained this to them gave me a good feeling. We were playing one of the teams who I thought we probably should beat. We tied 1-1. But "we" had a great time. We had about six or seven more shots to score our second goal. We also had a ball that slipped through our goalie's hand, went through his legs, and he turned around and saved a couple inches before crossing the line. I asked the kids after the game if they had fun and it was a loud and emphatic "YES!" I also realized that during the game I could concentrate on affirming and encouraging the kids rather than worry about making sure they were staying in the right positions. Who cares that we tied a team that we "should" have beat.
The following week when we sent the kids out on the field to start the game they were communicating with each other and directing each other where to line up and they had a balanced lineup. A smile crept across my face as I realized that by taking away some of my control I was teaching them to problem-solve on their own. We achieved our objectives by putting first things first and having the right perspective. For me, it was a double win. I used this situation to become better and I helped others do their best well.
In 20 years, most of us probably won't remember the scores of those games, but hopefully we will remember the lessons learned and put first things first.
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