Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of leaving work a little early on Tuesdays to go and help coach Ansley’s U8 soccer team. The team consists of 7 little girls of various shapes and sizes and skill levels that have very, very short attention spans. Activities at these practices are very short in duration and involve lots of water breaks. At times, it’s more like herding cats, but it’s a lot of fun.
Ansley and my oldest daughter, Lydia, both play in the local AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) region. The league is comprised of kids from across the central and southern portion of Spartanburg County. So the girls get to play with kids from all walks of life, which I think is a very important part of the experience itself – not only for the girls but for the parents too.
To be a coach, you have to take a couple of training classes. One is called the AYSO Safe Haven course, which covers the dos and don’ts of coaching. You know things like don’t curse at the kids or the referees or other coaches or the parents. We also learn about the AYSO values – things like positive reinforcement and teaching the kids the value of being on a team. The other class is coaching fundamentals for kids under the age of 8 or what I like to call Cat-Herding 101. But this coach missed the training. And how did I miss the training you might ask? Well, I forgot to write it on the calendar, and apparently, the AYSO coordinator sent the reminder to the wrong e-mail address. So I had to take the training online. Not that I was upset about this. I’m only the Assistant Coach, and I didn’t have to spend an entire Saturday in a training class.
Our practices last just over an hour, which is a bit of a stretch. We start out each practice with some stretches. The stretching is mainly for my benefit and for the Head Coach too. We’re not spring chickens. As I have aged and gotten more out shape, my need to properly stretch has increased a great deal. My muscles don’t respond as well to high speed activity as they used to. My knees and ankles pop and creak and are normally swollen after physical activity. I assume that’s normal when you’re 38ish.
After the stretches, we move into the drills. The girls seem to enjoy this part. We do easy things like dribbling between the cones, practicing shots on goal, passing drills, and practicing throw-ins. We work on other drills that help improve dexterity as well as speed. These are normally fast paced and usually only take about 20 minutes to complete – which is a problem when you have over an hour of practice time. After the drills, we work on situational drills like practicing goal kicks and corner kicks and defensive positioning.
Finally, we move on to games like Bear in the Cave and Ball Touch. Bear in the Cave requires way too much running for the coaches. The goal of the game is for the girls to move from one “cave” to the other while maintaining control of the soccer ball. If the “Bear” kicks the ball out, then the person that loses the ball becomes a “Bear” too. The last person standing wins. Ball Touch is like playing tag with the soccer ball.
Of course, we have lots of breaks in between each set of drills. At the beginning of practice, the water breaks are short. By the end of practice, the duration increases quite a bit. I think this is by design. It allows the coaches to catch their breath and allows me to rest my sore left ankle and sore right knee.
We normally end the practice with a scrimmage. I think the girls would prefer to spend all of practice scrimmaging. Coach Jesse and I usually join in on the fun. We focus on making good passes and staying in front of the opponent when playing defense. When 7 and 8 year olds play soccer, they typically move in the direction of the ball in one giant mass. Occasionally, the girls playing on the same team will even try to steal the ball from each other. It’s during these times that we try to reinforce the importance of spacing and not being a defender against your own team. Again, there is lots of running, and I think this is where I do the most damage to my ankles and knees.
After an hour and 15 minutes of fun, it’s time to go home, and by then I’m usually ready to go. The girls came up with a great name for the team this year. We are the Leaping Leprachauns. And yes…our uniforms are kelly green. So we end each practice with a team cheer. Usually, we get in a circle and the girls put their hands in the middle – a sign of team unity. Most of the time, the girls like to see who can put their hand on top of the pile. It’s entertaining. No one has gotten hurt yet, but I think it will happen sooner or later.
We’ve been practicing for the past 4 weeks or so, and games start next week. Actually they started last weekend, but we didn’t play. The other team didn’t show-up. Something about being away for Spring Break. Some people need to get their priorities straight – I guess. S0, we won by forfeit.
A win is a win in my book.
So Saturday is our first real game. The team gets to show its stuff. We have a good team in my opinion.
Let’s hope the coaches don’t ruin it for them. I will utilize the skills I learned in my online training courses.
I promise to abide by the training manual and not to curse at the referee – even when he/she makes the worst call ever.
Wish me luck.