Kicking and Screaming

Here’s how you tell if a coach has any kind of experience or not: watch him on the sidelines during a game. An experienced coach will observe his team quietly for the most time, giving brief pointers or encouragements from time to time, but mostly – just watch, silently analyze, and enjoy the game.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, there is a coach, who does not trust his players yet, and as a result – jumps up and down with every kick of a ball, and screams and yells instructions for every play – every single little play that is.

I recently watched a game between two boys’ U12 teams – one of those we’ already played, the other one – are about to play later in the season, so I wanted to scout it (by some lucky incident, their originally scheduled game rained out and now they had to play it during a week, which gave me this opportunity).

So – the game starts. Coaches on both benches are quiet, boys are playing, the game is exciting and full of legitimately thoughtful action by both sides. The first half ends in a 0-0 tie. Halftime break. Another coach arrives for one of the teams. As soon as the second half starts – the coach brings painful dissonance into the harmony of the moment: he starts yelling directions to his players every roll of the ball: “go to the left!”, “pressure him!”, “spread out!” (my all time favorite :-) ), “pass!”, “shoot!”, “run!”. He just never shuts up. And unless you are unfamiliar with the situation – you won’t believe it: his players start playing worse and worse, and you can tell – the only reason is that the boys are loosing their confidence… Five minutes into the half, the other team scores. Five minutes of kicking and screaming on the sidelines by an adult, who seemed nauseatingly out of place – all it took to break the team. That’s how the game ends – 1:0. A loss for a team that most of the time controlled the flow and borderline dominated the field.

It’s difficult for us as parents and adults to let go and accept the fact that frankly – after a game starts – there is not that much we can do to control a horde of excited kids, chasing a piece of leather filled with air. That’s why all this desperate instructional flood of words: it’s coping mechanism by a coach to disillusion oneself into belief that he can still direct where the game goes, that he is still in control.

From personal observations, we all go through this phase of kicking and screaming – vast majority of coaches (I am talking here about at least 6v6 or higher numbers games on official fields with official referees). It is not until you’ve been in a hand full of games when you realize that all you need to do is trust your players to make right decisions – or make wrong ones and learn from them. It’s not until later – that is of course if you decide to stay in this racket – when you learn to step back and let players play.

Another thing is – as shown on the example of the above game – children do sense when you do or do not trust them. If you are relaxed, or at least if you are putting up the face of a coach who relies and trusts his players to do their job – your confidence will rub off them and they will not look over their shoulder checking whether they are doing the right thing or not every instant of a game.

Sure, you will still need to correct your team periodically in a game and you will still get emotional on the side lines from time to time (I am often accused of showing lack of any emotion – even though I have tsunamis overflowing erupting volcanoes inside of my soul every second of a game) – but at least you won’t be filling air with non-stop vibrations of useless dissonance in helpless attempt to justify your own existence as a coach :-)



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