Coach, we need to talk.
I cried in the car ride home from the game last night. I let you down, I let the team down, I let my parents down, I failed.
You didn’t even have to say a word for me to know how you felt. I know what I did wrong, and your silence was enough to let me know that you knew too.
So we need to talk….I don’t want to play anymore.
I started playing this game because I loved it. I love the speed, the constant motion, the controlled chaos. I love the smell of fresh cut grass, the crispness of an early morning game, and the sound of the ball hitting that net. Oh, that sound. There is no other sound in the universe like it.
I will miss that sound the most. I definitely quit. I wish I could be of value to you. I wish you could see how much I look up to you. I wish you would notice how hard I try for you. You barely see me during training and at games, I seem like more of an annoyance or disappointment.
After my mistake yesterday, I was a ghost.
I tried to show off the new move you taught me. I tried to apply what I learned. I wanted you to see that I had been paying attention in training and that I was willing to risk for you. I wanted so badly to pull that move off, see the joy on your face, see you beaming from ear to ear with pride for me…then you would call out my name and give me this big thumbs up for all to see, and I would get a high five from you when I trotted triumphantly off the field. Just like you do for the good players.
I tried. I failed. I cried.
The moment I missed the ball and that player took it from me, I could already feel your disappointment.
When he dribbled away toward our goal and I fell trying desperately to fix my mistake, I could hear your loud sigh of frustration…again.
None of that hurt as badly as when he scored. I turned to you immediately, hoping just this one time, you would laugh and say, “So unlucky, but you tried the move! I am so proud of you for trying. Mistakes happen, but we grow from them. This will help you grow.”
Instead you screamed my name, stomped your foot, and had Jimmy sub in for me.
As I trudged off the field and past you, you just sat stoicly in your chair, refusing to even acknowledge me. I was a ghost to you.
I guess that parent on the other side was right…I am useless and shouldn’t be playing on this team. So I quit.
Before I leave coach, we need to talk…
We need to talk about how you can fix this for the next kid like me. The one who is unsure of himself. The one who tries everything but messes up, because his body hasn’t synced up with his mind. The one who lacks confidence so it affects his play. The one that always seems to lose the game for us and always gets subbed every time he messes up. You know our names because you scream it out every time we mess up, making us cringe at the sound of our own names now.
We need to talk about 4 things you can do to help the next one…
- Elevate him. Show him that you notice his efforts, even if he fails. That he has a safe place with you to try new things, to grow as a player, and to be vulnerable. Show him that you notice how hard he tries and at the very least, praise him for his work ethic and his courage…things he can control. I know when I mess up, and in fact, I am my own worst critic. You don’t need to remind me of what I did wrong. Oh, and yelling my name across the field makes it worse. Elevate me above that singular moment of failure with some words of hope and belief.
- Empower him. Give him a chance to fix his mistakes. We all make them, and all we want is to make up for it. When he messes up, give him a few minutes to try to make it up to you. If you sub him out immediately, like you did me, he will stop trying, stop risking, stop daring. He will figure out that mistakes equal bench time and his development will end. Empower me with trust and let me try to work through the struggle without immediate punishment.
- Encourage him. Talk to him. For goodness sake, I knew I messed up the moment I did it, you better believe the next guy will too. He is embarrassed for messing up in front of friends and family and for letting down his team. You can help him by talking to him when you do take him out of the game. Acknowledge his existence no matter how frustrated you are. Say something, anything, to him when he walks by you instead of sitting there like a statue of disappointment. If only you would have encouraged me as I walked by that everything was okay and we all mess up sometimes, I would have stayed.
- Enlighten him. You are the coach. You are supposed to be infallible and know how to do it right all the time. He looks up to you and implores you for knowledge. When he messes up is when he needs you to teach him the most. Show him how he can do it next time so he does not mess up. Mistakes are vehicles for learning but only if we are enlightened about what happened and what can go be done to correct it. Saying nothing at all after or even later does not help him grow. If only you would have enlightened me after the game of how I could fix that for the next time. Instead, you told me “never do that in front of the goal” and walked away.
I am too far gone. I hope you can help the next one.
Yours formerly in soccer,