Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Lessons from U6 Herding.

Published: 05 Nov 2011

Coaching started somewhat accidentally. As an avid -football-soccer fan, I obviously wanted my own son to play soccer. He always enjoys watching games with me, at least for 15 minutes.

I register him and shortly after this get a notice that they’re short on coaches. I wait a few days and they still need coaches so volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I was excited. I don’t think I’m particularly good with kids.

I set some goals for being happy at the end of the season. I figured that the biggest obstacle would be parents, and in some ways I was right but in others I was quite wrong.

I came up with a list of 5 things I wanted to accomplish:

  1. Teach the kids the core parts of soccer. Essentially, why it is the beautiful game.
  2. Establish an understanding of teamwork.
  3. Have a lot of fun.
  4. Have the kids looking forward to practice and games.
  5. Increase my own patience.

Magnet Ball is a genetic condition.

In the first game it was evident that some kids are destined to be ball chasers. Whether or not they’re good at it is a separate issue. Other kids avoid the cluster. They catch the rebounds or they simply run away. A few avoid the cluster and have good positioning so they’re helpful when the ball inevitably escapes.

Interestingly, the kids who play magnet ball aren’t always blind to the field. One kid on my team is guilty of magnet ball, but he does a good job of keeping awareness of the field. At our final game he even backed off when another team mate was in a better position and moved off to accept a pass. This made me very happy to see.

It is the beautiful game.

Today was probably the best game. It was the least magnet-ball style play. The other team and ours was aggressive but keeping spread out.

The children were spacing out. Looking for passes. Staying fluid. At our last game of the season, the game being played resembled soccer.

Soccer is a game of balance and dynamics. This is very difficult for 5 and 6 years olds to see. It took a lot of practice with spatial awareness and understanding incremental steps to success (scoring a goal).

The first player to get this was (can I have favorites?) a shy girl who avoided magnet ball as much as possible. She still had very good spatial awareness, though. She asked about the cluster of people. I said to go around, to run down the line. She did so. She even ran down the side and passed the ball in, earning an assist on her record.

It’s very impressive to watch such young children figure out and discover things. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

I even took away lessons that I am applying to my own life. I’ll write about those later, but so far I just feel very lucky to have had such a great time.

Nearly Smooth Sailing

Most of the problems were minor, except for a selfish and inflexible parent who just never showed up. Nor dropped out. This meant we always ended up at least one player short. There is no lesson from that. Some people are simply rude and there isn’t anything to do other than move on. After hearing some stories from other coaches I’m lucky. I had a great group of parents and kids.

In some coaching material I read at the start, the advice at the beginning was simple.

Just laugh. Many things will be funny, even if they make you want to lose your patience. You’re here to have fun. The kids are here to have fun. Laugh at the funny stuff even if it’s inappropriate and everybody will have fun.

I tried this and I think I succeeded. I think the kids made me laugh (and I them) much more than I thought. I don’t laugh enough. Coaching U6 helped me realize that and take more enjoyment out of the little things in life, even when it’s inappropriate (except when people are hurt, that’s still wrong to laugh at. Unless it really is funny.)

I’ll miss them. I’m not sure if I will be reunited with them if we play next season.