Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to live life through soccer

My daughter just started middle school.  She is a great kid, but like most kids who are 11, she wants to be an adult, demands independence, and is at the same time still a little girl.  She's much different than I was in middle school - very outgoing, an extrovert, and extremely creative.  Even as she is an extrovert, I see her wanting her own "alone" time as she navigates through life - time for her own thoughts.

Tonight she had her weekly soccer practice.  She plays on a rec team and is an excellent player - I can say this because I'm her biased mom, but also because I was a good soccer player and can see how much better she is than I was.

What struck me in watching her practice was her coach - I never realized how good he is.  Throughout the practice I observed why he is so good. 

Just as my daughter is in middle school, the other girls are also in fifth or sixth grade.  The fifth graders are usually wearing pink and attempt to hang on the coach a bit.  The sixth graders can be a bit more focused (although girls in both grades still do cartwheels and handstands when bored at practice).  The coach has all different types of players on the team - from talented, good, learning, shy, not aggressive, etc.

What sets this coach aside from other coaches, teachers, instructors, etc. is his unique approach.  Sure, others are similar.  But he's a difficult act to follow.

He takes each kid where they are, makes them each feel important, gives each of them the same amount of feedback, and continues this throughout practice.  He uniquely works with the "clingy" players by ignoring the "clinging" and instead focusing on their playing.  He has no surprises for anyone - at each game, each player knows where they will play, each player knows they are respected for the gifts they bring to the game, and when players come to the sideline, he continues to teach, and in turn, the kids continue to learn.

I know today was a hard day for my daughter and that she has been sick for over a week, so I was unsure how she would do at practice.  Surely she wouldn't give it 100 percent.  And this is what is unique.  She came to practice, and by his teaching, she gave 100 percent.

Sometimes I think we, as adults, expect kids to decide when they will "show up" to play, when they will show confidence and not hold back, when they will reach their potential.  And then by who shows up at 100 percent, that will determine who is "better."

But from him, I learned we can't expect kids to do this alone.  Each kid deserves to be valued.  In some way, if a kid isn't giving 100 percent, if a kid is holding back, or if a kid isn't showing the confidence we think they should have, we shouldn't wait for it all to happen on its own.  We need to be so engaged that we, as adults, can bring out the 100 percent; that we, as adults, can get kids not to hold back; that we, as adults, can bring out the confidence in kids that we know they must have. 

We certainly can't expect every 11 year kid on a soccer team, going through so many life changes,  to show up 100 percent ready to go on their own, and assume some kids are more interested than others.  We can't expect that those who are hanging back are simply not ready.  And we, as adults, must engage kids enough to give the kids as much confidence as we can give them.  We can't expect that confidence will just, poof!, show up with time.  And yet, so often, we do expect 100 percent, we assume kids are not ready (for fill in the blank), we assume kids just lack confidence...  just because.  We have to engage each and every kid, where they are, and bring them as far as possible.

And what my daughter's soccer coach does is just that.  He thinks he gets good teams by luck.  And he may to a certain degree.  But his unique talent is to take every kid, where they are, find a way for them to leave the rest of their life off the field, find opportunities for them to play 100 percent, find ways to get kids ready to be the best part of the team that they can be, and find ways for each kid to develop as much confidence as possible.  That's a gift.

And while this coach has that gift, he gives adults valuable lessons to learn. We should find ways for every kid to show their 100 percent.  We should find ways to get each kid ready for whatever is next for them.  And we should find ways for every single kid to develop the confidence that they all deserve to have.

Are we doing that?  Often I think not.

But when we take responsibility for each kid, we can watch them all succeed in life, as God smiles.


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