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Coaching Youth Soccer is Like Herding Yellow Jackets

Coaching Youth Soccer is Like Herding Yellow Jackets

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I just made what may be one of my craziest decisions since, well, three days ago when I ordered serrano chilés on a hamburger: I became the coach of my son's soccer team.

My son's kindergarten and first grade soccer team.

It's not that I don't like soccer. I love soccer. I played soccer for years, and still watch it on occasion. And I love my son dearly. I want to introduce him to the sport I loved for years. I just think I'm going to go crazy trying to teach a bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds about a sport you play with your feet, when we live in basketball country.

"No, Jacob, don't dribble with your hands, dribble with your feet."

"Because that's what they call it. Now put the ball down."

"Tyler, the ball is not an egg. Please don't sit on it."

"I'm not worried about the ladybug, Josh. She'll move if we ever make it that far down the field."

I don't know how much of this I'll be able to take.

If you've never watched young children play soccer, try this. Go outside on a warm summer day, and start eating a sucker, until it gets good and sticky. Then, hold the sucker in your hand until a bunch of yellow jackets start swarming around it. Now, run around trying to get the yellow jackets away from you. Tell them to pass the sucker, or at least kick it out of the swarm.

You know in your heart that if you were to sit the yellow jackets down and explain what they needed to do to win the sucker, they would all nod their heads and say they understood. But when you held the sucker up again, they would just all swarm around it, and your cries of "Pass it! Pass it!" would go unheeded, until one of the yellow jackets kicked the sucker, and it hit another yellow jacket in the face, and you had to deal with wailing and sobbing and hoping the yellow jacket's parents understood that getting hit in the face with a sucker is all just part of life.

Such is the life of the youth soccer coach. You try to teach a bunch of young kids about the skills needed in soccer without them kicking each other in the face.

I think the coaches of this age group are better off teaching them how to pass and dribble, and letting the rest of the season just sort of play itself out.

That's been my plan for the past few weeks. Show them the basics, explain how the game is played, and then unleash them on the field to face down another group of boys with exactly the same level of skill, swarming instinct, and face kicking.

I was a decent soccer player when I was younger. I played for nearly 14 years, from elementary school all the way through college and grad school. I understand strategy, I know the drills, and everything I need to do to make these boys a top-notch, tournament grade soccer team, if they were 10 years older.

When I was in college, we played European style soccer, which meant you beat the bejeezus out of the other guy. None of this namby-pamby passing the ball around to stay out of trouble. European-style soccer meant you crushed your enemies, saw them driven before you, and heard the lamentations of the women.

Needless to say, this is NOT how I'm teaching my team to play. They're learning basic skills, like passing and dribbling, because the last thing I need is for some kid to be carried off the field, sobbing, because his coach has delusions of Conan the Barbarian.

At this age, the boys just need to be left alone, to buzz around the field, swarming around the ball like yellow jackets on a sucker. They just want to play and have fun and goof around and not listen to some grownup tell them not to pick a ball up with their hands.

So I'm not going to worry about whether the other team scores a goal. I'm not going to be one of those coaches who screams "Pass it! Pass it!" at the swarming mass of skinny legs and kicking feet. I'm just going to let them buzz around the field for the duration of the game.

And I'll wait until they're in second grade before I teach them the sliding tackle.

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  1. I recently started coaching youth wrestling, I know what you mean! I love working with kids but they can be a hand full some times. Their attention spans are very very slim. Great post!

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  2. Thanks, Jacob. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I was reminded of how hard it is to get a bunch of boys to pay attention when I had all 7 of them together for the first time this week.

    Still, we had a great time.


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