Coaching youth soccer

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(Host) Commentator Vern Gubinger reflects on the challenges of coaching first grade soccer for the first time.

(Grubinger) If you like herding cats, I’ve got a job for you! Coaching first grade soccer, and it’s not as easy as I thought. Of course, I’m not especially qualified. But I do meet the minimum requirements. I’m ambulatory, good at yelling, and… I have a whistle.

I was drafted when I arrived with my son to sign up for the local rec league. No problem I thought, we’ll dribble, we’ll pass, we’ll score, right? Most of all, we’ll have fun. OK team, it’s not about who wins or loses, we’re here to have fun.’

Daddy’, my son says with the exasperation of an all-knowing 7 year old it’s way more fun when you win.’

To prepare for victory, we practice. Dribbling, passing, trapping – interspersed with fits of jumping all over one another, emergency
bathroom breaks, and round robins of I’m thirsty, when can I get a drink?’

Then comes game time. Let’s assign positions. Jeff you play goalie’

I want to play goalie’
No I want to play goalie’
No. I do.’
‘He played last time, it’s my turn’

Whoa, whoa, you’ll all get to play goalie. What’s the big deal with goalie, anyway?’

Well’ pipes up one youngster, wise beyond his years, you don’t have to do much, but it’s really important.’

Finally the teams are positioned, and the game starts. Spread out’, I yell, pass’. Spread out, pass.’ You get the idea. I think beekeepers would make good first grade soccer coaches. They know how to manage a swarm.

Suddenly the ball squirts free of the crowd. It surprises an unsuspecting player who’s been contemplating his navel, or crickets in the grass. He jumps to attention, gives the ball a mighty kick, and runs ahead of the crowd. It looks like a breakaway goal.

The other way’ I scream. We’re going the other way’. Luckily, one of our fastest players intercepts him. Then, he trips and falls.

I blow the whistle and run over, adrenalime pumping because I can’t tell if the child is seriously injured. He’s crumpled on the ground, tears flowing.

Are you OK? Does is hurt? Where does it hurt?’
It doesn’t’ He sobs but I got my new soccer shirt all dirty!’ Then quick as wink he’s up and over it, even if coach isn’t.

Soon, the ball goes out of bounds. I blow the whistle, declaring free kick’. Just my luck, a parent on the sidelines actually knows the rules.
Corner kick’ she corrects, are you teaching them the game or just having fun?’

Hey, if they go in the right direction, I’m happy’ I mumble.

There’s a minute left; the score is tied. We prepare for the corner kick, and play is about to resume when I see my left forward waving frantically. I jog over. What’s the problem?’

I’m really glad the game’s almost over’ he confides, my mom has cookies for me when we’re done’. Play on.

With an ear to the ground, in bounds, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the Director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the vegetable and berry specialist for UVM Extension.

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