Coaching youth soccer was one of the most fun and most satisfying, albeit challenging dad things I did when my sons were young. Not that I knew what I was doing; I did not. I’d never played it as a youth, and in fact my only connections to the game came from a Danish soccer team wear client I had during the 1994 World Cup in the USA; and through osmosis from my creative partner, an Irish National designer, who lived and breathed the game.
But knowing all out enthusiasm had carried me through many challenges about which I knew nothing, I accepted several coaching roles for all my sons, and my teams always seemed to enjoy the game, as did I.
My biggest challenge came when I picked up a H-14 youth soccer team the final year my oldest son played.
I’d been warned by the league coordinator when I took on the team: two of the guys on the team had given their coaches mass quantities of grief throughout their youth soccer career.
Now 14-years old, both had fallen right on the cusp of the singular toughest team to make in our schools: the 19-person Middle School 8th grade boys team. And I could see from how they both stood aside they felt they didn’t belong to my gang.
Frankly I was concerned, unconvinced they’d play well with others or even bother to play to their athletic levels. But after watching them, I could see they both had skills. And smarts.
Fact too was I liked them both. Maybe it was they reminded me of me. And knowing what I’d respond to at that age (or even now) gave me an idea.
So, at the start of our second practice I pulled each aside, and after asking them what they thought about the team, and listening to their answers, had one thought for each of them:
“Jay/Miguel, as coach I’m seeing some real possibility in you: I’d like you (and the other) to step up and take a leadership role in the team, and help me out.”
Of course, they were both suspicious. But when I announced they would be the Co-Captains for the first 3 matches, their pride was palpable. Recognition is a wonderful rehabilitator of the spirit.
You know, they stepped up and got it done, both becoming the team’s high scorers and toughest defenders.
They also became remarkably tolerant with their less skilled teammates, and put a halt to any unkind taunts or put-downs not uncommon in middle school society.
And, when others were named single-game captains, they were still the team’s leaders; the guys looked up to them and emulated their play.
What I learned that season has carried over to my professional life as a strategy and brand marketing coach to this day. Because one of the first things I look for in my clients’ staffs are those willing to rock the boat. Hidden leaders. Though they’re not all that hard to spot: they aren’t angry as much as they are impatient, and may even seem a little discontent about their limited roles. And they are always just a little smarter than the average bear.
Of course, there are always neer-do-wells, the “entitled,” and those who are patently dishonest (or worse, liars); and they need to be isolated as soon as discovered. Nasty is nasty.
But given my baseline requirements for intelligence, honesty, and a sense of decency, I’ve most always found troublemakers take risk to heart; and who, given the opportunity, will take the ball and run.
Then again, ‘trouble’ is always in the eye of the beholder, a matter of degree. And you can be sure my guys gave the competition big trouble that season. No, we didn’t win the league, but it was as good a season as I had in my 8 seasons as a youth soccer coach.
Now 10 years later, Miguel has returned to his native land, but I still run into Jay now and then at the local grocery store; and he looks happy as he takes on the world — on his terms.
And when I see him he always pays me what I consider the supreme compliment. He calls out “hey Coach!”
That he thinks of me in this manner, well, I think of it as an annuity on my investment in my teams — one that’s paid me handsomely time and again.
To say nothing of the impact these troublemakers have had on their friends, and peers.
A troublemaker from the word go, I’ve retired from youth soccer coaching and have gratefully taken to watching Premier League football, happy to let others have some good dad fun every weekend morning.