FANNING: Five lessons from coaching kids’ soccer

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By Ben Fanning, contributing editor  |  Ever thought you were going to “teach” someone something new, but then you quickly discover that you’re the one who is really the student?

Well that’s exactly what happened to me in two seasons of coaching ages 5-6 girls’ soccer.  Turns out you can pick up a lot of lessons while coaching a sport, and they have practical application in your everyday work and life.  Here are five life lessons I learned from coaching kids’ soccer:

Fanning

Fanning

#1.  You’re already more qualified than you think.  I didn’t originally sign-up to coach. It seemed like something that would be better for a more qualified person to do.  Even when they notified us that they were short on coaches, I hesitated because I didn’t think I knew enough about soccer.  Like many moments in life, it’s easy to get caught up in the thought of needing one more certification before you tackle your next challenge.  This can become an excuse not to start or take a small risk.  The biggest qualification you’ll ever require is that you’re willing to help when there’s a need.

Quick Tip:  When you hear that inner voice saying, “I’m not qualified,” contemplate if that’s really true or perhaps an excuse not to jump in and help.

#2.  Schedule fun stuff after the hard stuff.  A friend shared some sage advice when I started coaching.  He said, “Finish every practice with a fun game.”  No matter how hard we practiced, we’d always finish with Sharks and Minnows, and Red Light-Green Light. This completed practice on an up note and left our team wanting to come back to the next practice.  It’s easy as an adult to get caught up in the grind of work without remembering the importance of fun.  When you’re working on a hard project, make sure to consider how you can end on an up note so you can carry that momentum to your next work session.

Quick Tip:  Try sharing your wins of the day over dinner with your team or family. Notice how this lifts your spirits when you choose to focus on what went right.

#3.  It’s OK to be scared; go ahead anyway.  A few times our players were intimidated by the other team or suffered a minor injury. In those moments, it triggered fear, tears, and sometimes, a desire to sit on the bench. We learned that it was important not to say, “There’s nothing to be scared of,” or “don’t cry,” because the fear was very real to them.  Instead, we encouraged them to be courageous, which is taking action in the face of fear. Sometimes their courage was a small step to get back on the field after an injury, and sometimes it was going for the steal from a bigger player.  The more they exercised their courage, their confidence grew.

There are frequent moments in life when fear can paralyze you. Instead of paralysis, dig deep to find your courage and use it to propel you forward.

Quick Tip:  When you notice fear holding you back, call on a little courage to take few steps forward.

#4.  It ain’t about you.  Halfway through our soccer season, I began to feel pressure for our team to play better.  It become less fun and suddenly something felt “at stake.”  This was strange to me because the first several games I would just sit in amazement at what these girls could do at such a young age. What I realized was that I was making the outcome of the game about my coaching ability … even with 5 to 6 year olds. When I remembered to put the focus back on helping the girls as individuals and creating a positive team environment, it quickly changed the entire dynamic back to an enjoyable and delightful experience.

Quick Tip:  When you start to feel pressured or like something is really at stake, perhaps you’re making it about you instead of the people you’re trying to help.  Focus your attention on them and notice how liberating this is.

#5.  Transform your team into a community … when possible.  In the midst of the season, our team was transformed to community.  A team works together to achieve a goal (win games), whereas a community works together in service of a higher purpose (create a positive growth experience for our girls). I find the higher purpose of a community more motivating in life and those are the most memorable.  This doesn’t happen for all teams, but when it does, it’s important to name it and recognize how special it is.

I could have tried to do it all, but instead I enrolled the help of the people who cared about the team. We had two amazing assistant coaches, a back-up assistant coach, amazingly supportive parents and grandparents, and one bagpiper (who even played at a game and our end of year party).

The real magic of our team happened off the field as our families bonded over games, practices, post-practice playground time and a terrific end-of-season party.

Quick tip:  Consider what it would it be like if you approached your team as an opportunity to build a broader community. How would you nurture it differently?

Bonus Tip:  Win the party no matter what.  After our first game, a player on my team said, “Coach Ben, we normally get a snack after the game.”  I’d missed this important detail, but it was obvious in future games how finishing with a communal snack was like a celebration of their effort.  Celebrate frequently!

So what life lessons have you learned from coaching sports either formally from the field or maybe informally at home?  Please share.

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