I’ve almost completed my first ‘season’ as a soccer ‘coach.’ I’ve learned a few things.

OPINION: Nothing is a more humbling learning experience than trying to coach a bunch of kids playing a game for the first time as a first-time “coach.”

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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.

I’m just now completing my first “season” as a “coach” for my son’s soccer team. The team is composed of second graders, cobbled together by my wife and full of schoolmates and children of family friends. I don’t know how else to say this, but this team didn’t do well. At all. Of the eight games we played, we won one, and that win was because the opposing team didn’t have enough players so some of our kids played for the other team. Our kids scored for the other team, but thankfully, OUR team scored more or we’d have lost to ourselves, and I have no idea how I would have reconciled that loss. Thankfully, we won. 

Anywho, I’ve never coached my kids’ (or anybody else’s) teams before, and while I played soccer as a kid, I was not exactly Nathan Shelley from “Ted Lasso”; wunderkind, I was not. In fact, I feel tremendously humbled by this first foray into coaching. And I also learned some lessons that I will take into the next season, should I be the “coach” again. To be clear, I keep using “coach” with quotes because the whole point of their league is for the kids to learn and have fun. My role is really just to make sure the kids get subbed in and all get a chance to play. I’m not sure everybody realizes that since folks already take it seriously when their kids aren’t out there. Even the kids never want to come out of the game. The thing is, the kids and parents keep calling me coach, so I have tried to own the title. 

One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is that even little kids who are just out there to have fun take it really, really personally when they lose. So our kids literally don’t practice. This league is set up to give kids drills and practice before each game. We never get together outside of game day, though I wish we had; time is difficult to come by. But even though the kids know they never practice, they get really, really upset when they lose. Like, you’d think they were playing for league best the way they would be upset at the end. I learned that some kids really can’t see the failure or loss up close and personal and had to make adjustments. That means I had to be really careful about thinking about who would play goalie. As I said, our team isn’t great so that means other teams scored. Being the goalie and having other kids score on you is the most direct way to feel failure, and I had to manage that. Lesson learned, yo. Lesson learned. 

It also did help me get used to different kids’ personalities and strengths. Since I had to watch every game to ensure the kids all got to play, I was able to pick up on kids’ strengths and … not as strengths, which is interesting; those proclivities showed themselves really quickly and made me wish we had practices so I could hone in on those skill sets that manifested naturally. Some of our kids were very fast and some had amazing dribbling skills already. Others were really good at playing defense. It’s like they naturally moved into certain positions. Lesson learned, and one I hope to develop further. 

I also realized that I might not be a great coach. I’m good at motivating but Xs and Os? Eh. I would definitely need somebody to come in and help with that stuff because I can give a speech but the details are something I’m not great at. I found that humbling because I felt like my only instruction ever was to spread out and communicate. Now, they’re all 8 and 9 years old so maybe that’s all they needed at this point, but it still felt like I was personally missing something. I will work on that. 

Most importantly, I got to learn parents’ personalities and how to operate with certain kids based on those parents. I learned when to step in and make sure the kids focused or didn’t get caught up in their parents’ opinions of what was happening since the goal was fun and not a Premier League tryout. Even I had to just be like, “It’s just fun, P.” But that allowed me to realize when to address certain kids in certain situations and be encouraging. Or when to send them to their parents. Over a short period, I got to learn all the kids and that was fun. 

So overall, I had a good time and learned a lot. But mostly, I got humbled because I feel like I’m not good at this and need as much practice as the kids. Look at that, everybody learned. 

We all got coached. 

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.