I ended up being the coach of my kid’s soccer team; here’s what I’ve learned now that I’m not just there to watch

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Like many parents, with each changing season, my wife and I put our kids in various activities and sports so our kids can be social, exercise and run out all of their energy so we can have some quiet evenings watching “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” As my wife is a doer and a go-getter, on occasion she creates the spaces for our kids. Such is the case with my kids and this spring’s activity: soccer. They wanted to play soccer so she corralled parents and kids, and voila, we have teams. My 8- and 6-year-old both play on teams in a Washington, D.C. youth soccer league. For the 8-year-old, my wife put me down as the coach of the team. 

So I’m the coach. 

Now, I often put “coach” in parentheses because my job largely consists of ensuring that each of the nine kids on the team gets equal playing time. These kids essentially meet once a week and practice with league-appointed coaches who teach them some drills for about 15 minutes, and then they play a game for the remaining 45 minutes. So there’s not a ton of coaching happening. We don’t run plays because there’re no real positions at this point. The main focus is communicating and scoring (while not getting in each other’s way—that part is a work in progress). 

But what has happened is quite curious. I don’t view myself as a natural coach. For one, I enjoy soccer, but I didn’t play in high school. My last foray into league soccer of any sort was in middle school in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1992. I seem to know more about soccer than Ted Lasso, but that’s also not saying much. However, I have started to pick up on each kid’s individual strengths and weaknesses (such that they exist at this point; they’re 8 and 9, all those things can be ironed out over time). I have learned each kid’s personality (at least on the field) and discerned who is good at what based on just watching them play.

I’ve ALSO paid attention to other coaches and their methods of speaking to the kids. Some are definitely more aggressive and to the point, and others are more like me – encouraging and positive – because, well, we don’t practice, nor do we really have any clue what’s happening. I’ve seen some teams prepare before each game running line drills, etc. Admittedly, it does make me want to gather the kids a time or two during the week for practice with passing, dribbling and shooting on goal. Some kids have natural tendencies, which are clear. Some have natural desires to be in the game. I rather enjoy when those kids are excited and almost annoyed that they’re not in the game. That lets me know they both want to play and also want to win. They’re competitive, and you can tell right away which players have that fire. 

A few have even come to me to tell me what they’ve done in preparation for the games, which helps. If they’re taking it seriously then I should too. While we’re in this playing for fun and learning phase, I do want to learn enough to truly give these kids a chance to know what it feels like to win games. And they’ve had that. We’re like 1-4, but that one win was sweet! Watching the other teams that obviously practice and meet up—some even have specialized jerseys and one showed up with GLOVES for the kids taking turns at goalie—makes me want to take it more seriously as a coach and really get into the game and the intricacies of the sport. 

It’s pretty interesting being actively involved in what’s happening as opposed to bringing the kids and watching and making suggestions from afar. At this point, I’m making the decisions, and parents are like, “Good job, coach.” But I do wonder if it was more competitive if I’d get more of the, “Hey coach, my kid really needs that playing time.” Maybe one day we’ll get there, but for now I’m enjoying paying attention to the kids, and my son in particular and his skill set, in a way that is functional and purposeful. 

I’m a soccer dad and soccer coach (for) now. And you know what, I really enjoy it.

Shouts out to me for unlocking another parent badge. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.