Lately I've been asked why I enjoy coaching .... My immediate answers aren't anything deep because deep is reserved for my close friends and the cats. Deep is also reserved for late nights when my blog speaks to me... Begging for something more.
Recently I had our u15 and u16 GCF Academy players write reflections pieces on the first four months of the program. I felt it was a good time for them to give their thoughts on their progress, what they've learned and what they want to continue to improve on.
I got more than I could have ever imagined, including some very, very well written submissions. But before I get into that I want to tell you a little about the program I'm involved in called girlsCAN Football that's based out of Connecticut.
GCF. Where do I even begin? It's funny because the place I want to start is the place I'm still at 20 years later. I've always had a hard time finding players that wanted to do what I wanted to do. Play pickup. Take shots on goal. Kick around. Juggle . Watch games on TV. Watch Ronaldo (the old one) nutmeg everyone in sight - like even the camera man. Or anything that had to do with soccer. I was just obsessed as a kid and have been ever since. Unhealthy might be a word some people would use to describe how I feel. I have zero you know whats to give concerning this matter.
It's a fact of life that when you're in deep with something, it isn't always easy to find people or environments where this is acceptable or understood. It's hard to be accepted when you're so different. People don't always understand your obsession. I don't expect it so much now that I'm an adult-or-whatever, but when I was young I couldn't fully grasp this concept.
When I was young I didn't understand why someone wouldn't want to go to practice. I didn't understand why we would cancel practice if it was raining. I was so enamored with soccer that I, embarrassingly enough, didn't understand why our games were cancelled on 9-11. This is how it was. I can't excuse it.
I always wanted a place where little Tiffany Weimer would be so effin' happy. Where she fit in and was understood. I wanted a place where loving soccer was cool and accepted and everyone wanted to be at practice. I wanted a place where juggling records were discussed and nutmegs were encouraged. I wanted a place where players knew who Johan Cruyff actually was, not just his move. I wanted to talk about the guy was who missed that PK in the 1994 World Cup final and all the players that play on the New York Cosmos.
I couldn't make this happen when I was little. It was hard to even find boys who knew this stuff, never mind girls. But now I'm able to make this a reality.
GCF is a place where players can become obsessed with the game, with the process, with the people that inspire them, with their teammates and everything that goes along with the beautiful game. And no one judges them because everyone is on the same page. It's our little utopia.
The kids wrote their reflection pieces and said they were now in a place where they could make mistakes and people wouldn't judge them. Where soccer was their escape. Where getting better was expected and being obsessed with the game was accepted.
Many of the essays brought me to tears. In the best possible way. Players said simply that they enjoyed playing soccer again. This is way better than coaching a player to the national team level or winning a national championship. Because at the end of the day, not everyone player is going to be a superstar. Not every player will even play in college. But every player will have an opinion about soccer. They will either love it or hate it when they're done and either way, coaches have a major influence on this outcome.
Soccer practice should be a place young players are excited to go to. It shouldn't be scary or stressful or intimidating. It should be a place free of all the those things because young kids have to deal with those feelings enough with everything else they have to do. Soccer should be their escape… their freedom. A place to meg like no one is watching.
If it sounds like this is something that should be found on every team and every club with every coach, it's simply not the reality at all. I've heard horror stories from some players. It's disheartening to say the least what most youth players have to endure to play soccer. No one deserves to be belittled. No one deserves to be on the back burner. No one deserves to have something they love stripped from them for no reason whatsoever.
As a coach we have a responsibility. To create an environment where players are accepted… where players can make mistakes and learn from them; where players can love the game of soccer without judgement; where they can grow as players and as people; where they are challenged mentally and physically; where they can find likeminded people; where they can aspire to be something more and a place where they can escape the rigors of the real world. Soccer is an incredible game. It's our responsibility to show young players just how incredible it is, while showing them just how incredible they can be as people. Because … wow. Young people. They have the whole world… literally… at their feet.