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Jennifer Joyner: In praise of youth sports coaches

Posted October 29, 2013

Jennifer Joyner

Can we talk for a moment about the pure awesomeness to be found in many of the men and women who volunteer in youth sports activities?

I mean, sure … we’ve all heard about or experienced some pretty unpleasant things when it comes to our kids playing on teams. I’ll never forget a friend of mine telling me about her four-year-old daughter playing on her first Little Kickers soccer team. You know, where they barely know what to do and you don’t really keep score and gosh aren’t they just so cute in their little uniform??

Well, one Saturday, my friend’s daughter took the field and noticed a friend from her daycare was playing on the other team. She walked over to say hi, and the coach for this team of preschoolers bellowed from the sidelines, “HEY! ARE WE HERE TO CHAT OR ARE WE HERE TO PLAY SOCCER???!!”

Yeah. That was the last time my friend’s daughter played for that team.

We’ve certainly never experienced anything that extreme, or truthfully, anything close to negative, really. We’ve had a couple of coaches who seemed perhaps a little indifferent, but my guess is they were just busy like the rest of us, trying to juggle work and home and squeezing out whatever volunteer time they could manage. For the most part, my kids have played for loving moms and dads who did the very best they could and all the children on the team took away happy memories.

But this year …. man, have we been blessed with just an amazing coaching experience.

For lots of different reasons, my son found himself on a soccer team with only one kid he knew, and with kids who were all older than him and much better players. This threw Eli completely for a loop. As a child with a September birthday, he’s always been the oldest kid in his class or on his team.

Plus, Eli is super competitive in almost everything he does, but not in what I would call a healthy or productive way. In other words, if he’s not the absolute best in any particular group, he is devastated to the point of barely being able to function. We are constantly working on this with him while being truly baffled as to where in the world this mentality comes from. His sister? Not competitive in the least. So you can just imagine Eli’s reaction when he realized where he ranked on his new soccer team filled with older, more experienced kids.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was ready to run for the hills, sure that the deck was stacked too high for anything productive to come out of the situation. I didn’t know his coaches very well, but it was clear that they were highly skilled in the game of soccer, and super serious about making those kids the very best players they could be.

Frankly, I didn’t want to burden them with having to deal with Eli’s quirky issues, and I didn’t want to take time away from the other kids who were ready and eager and willing. Maybe it was just best to sit this season out.

And then, something amazing happened. These coaches, busy with their own lives and kids and jobs, graciously took my boy in and got to work. Standing on the sidelines of one early–in-the-season practice, I had no idea what they said to him, but I am completely convinced the whistles around their necks contained some sort of magic fairy dust, for I watched as my son ran his laps, finishing dead last and winded … but with a calm, determined face.

He joined formation and went through drill after drill, struggling to keep up with the fancy footwork of his teammates, but not once did he crumble, never did he ask to leave. His progress was slow, and patience has always been a foreign concept to him. But week after week, he practiced with that same focus, doing what his coaches said without complaint, intently studying the skills of his teammates.

Honestly, I was sure the rug would be pulled out from under all of us at any second, never really allowing myself to believe this was really happening, that this was working. I’ll never sell my kid short again, because he showed me exactly what he was made of.

I give Eli all the deserved credit, but I am equally amazed by what those coaches were able to pull out of my son. It was utter chaos in the beginning, but they never faltered. Instead, they offered steadfast guidance and encouragement, without coddling or hand holding.

It was precisely what Eli needed, and I hope they know that they not only taught my son some serious soccer moves, they have made a true difference in how Eli approaches challenges, how he processes failure and how he can use his competitive instincts in far more productive ways. With eight weeks of soccer, these coaches have helped change his life.

So thank you, all you coaches out there, willing to give some of your time and a lot of your heart, helping other people’s children become better athletes and happier humans.

And to Coach Craig, Coach Giles and Coach James with Fayetteville Soccer Club? You have this mother’s eternal gratitude.

Jennifer Joyner is a mom of two, freelance writer and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in 2010. Find her here on Wednesdays.

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  • bgrmom Oct 30, 2013

    We have had a wonderful soccer coaching team with JoCo YMCA over the past several seasons. Coach Alan and Coach Crystal--you guys are A-W-E-S-O-M-E! They have been a blessing to us as a family--helping our son learn soccer fundamentals, while making it fun for everyone!