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My Soccer Path – The Erin Years

Spurred by this experience, I started making plans to do it all over again with Erin’s team, only better.  The summer before Erin’s U9 year (2010 Fall), I completed the NSCAA Junior Level V / VI (fka Advanced Regional) Diploma , which is similar to the USSF E.  I was hooked on the coaching courses and following the U9 fall season, I obtained a USSF National D License and an NSCAA Goalkeeping Level I Diploma.  Finally, during 2011 Summer I completed the NSCAA National Diploma course (which I will blog about in more depth later).  In an 18 month window, I had attended 110+ hours of formal coaching courses plus the referee education.

While gathering this new knowledge, I also had ample opportunity to apply it to Erin’s rec team and as a guest coach working with older competitive teams.  I also spent a lot of time watching other coaches work with their teams both good and bad (including Grace’s new coach).  I rapidly formed a set of opinions about player development.  These experiences, along with parenting, helped me to determine which methods and philosophies were good, better and best (I don’t like to say what is good or bad as soccer, like life, isn’t black or white).

Beyond the courses and coaching, I also had the very good fortune to spend a great deal of time with a coach who ended up being very influential to my thought processes and who also dramatically increased my level of professionalism: Tim Hankinson.  Tim joined our modest club in Broomfield, CO as the Director of Coaching after stints abroad and domestically, always coaching collegiate or professional players.  His attitude and approach was entirely unexpected as I just assumed a seasoned, high level coach like Tim would be an egotistical maniac with an unyielding focus on winning.

Instead, it was remarkable how quickly he adapted himself to teaching other coaches and working with children particularly girls as he’d had no previous experience with that gender at any level (anyone who’s a parent or coached knows that young boys and girls are entirely different creatures).  I assumed Tim stepping down from a role that’s about tactics, fitness and man management to one that often calls for a bit of silliness would likely end in disaster, but I was wrong.  Tim made it work because he always seemed to have the spirit of the game at the front of his mind, trying his best to ensure coaches and players were enjoying themselves.  He espoused this idea of two kinds of fun:

  1. The social aspects of team sports, being outside with friends, exercise and so forth
  2. The challenge of soccer including it’s physical and intellectual demands along with the excitement that can come with competing and pushing yourself to new limits

If you as the coach know which kind of players you have and cater to their needs, everything will turn out fine.

Working with Tim, I took on other projects for our soccer club including developing coaching reference materials as well as designing and running an introductory course for other U9-U10 coaches in the club.  Teaching other coaches was nerve-wracking, but also fun.  I always enjoyed the sense of community when attending the USSF and NSCAA courses, so introducing novice coaches to the community, sharing ideas (and failures) and instructing them on the basics of pulling together a practice session was very enjoyable.  It was also rewarding in that I was able see those coaches continue to grow in the seasons after they attended one of the courses.  Many went on to attend formal USSF or NSCAA courses and four of them eventually won “coach of the year” awards from our club.

Later, after Tim had departed to become the head coach for the San Antonio Scorpions, he invited me to observe invitation-only try-outs for his new side.  It was an eye-opening experience to see how hard those players worked for a chance to play in what was effectively the US 2nd Division of soccer which is a LONG way from the top-tier leagues in Europe, both in terms of level of play and player financial opportunity.  It helped me put into perspective how difficult it is to reach the top of this game and frame my views on what ultimately is and isn’t important.

Now, after coaching hundreds of matches and practices; after all the courses; after all the reading, watching and conversations; I finally feel as though I am a competent coach.  Still, of the total body of soccer knowledge, I have absorbed perhaps 10% of what there is to know.  Soccer is wonderful in that way as there’s always something new, some evolution, some different angle, another lens through which the game can be viewed.  With billions of people playing this game around the world, I cannot think of another activity (other than sleeping) which has such broad participation, thus nothing garners as much creative thought.

I grew up a fan of football and played basketball throughout my youth, but by the end of the process I described, nothing else captured my imagination like soccer.  I found other team games shallow and uninteresting.  I had become a “soccer guy”.

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