Thanks, Coach!

Have you ever struggled to get better at something you thought you should already be good at?

I have, and it’s no fun, whether it’s struggling to do a new task at work, or unsure of how to handle a new childrearing situation. I catch myself thinking why don’t I know how to do this? and because it’s easy to convince yourself that no one else is sharing your struggle to think is something wrong with me?

I saw my son experience this very struggle with his new soccer team. While he understands the fundamentals of the team, learning strategy for how to move around other players and the rules on the field are still something new to him. He became frustrated in a practice and the coach came over to talk to him. My son expressed his disappointment in his lack of knowledge and ability to execute what he was being asked to do. This came in the form of an emotional outburst that was a culmination of his frustration. The coach wasn’t having any of it. He told my son to listen to what he was saying or get off the field. My son promptly walked off the field.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with something. While part of me wanted to go and talk to him about what I just witnessed, it felt like this was something I needed to let the coach handle for the time being. I didn’t want to undermine the point he was trying to make, and I didn’t want my son to think I thought he was failing or not doing things right. I could already see he was really disappointed and down on himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking, why can’t I do this? Why isn’t this coming more naturally? What’s wrong with me?

The coach waited a few minutes and then came over to my son who was close enough for me to overhear the conversation (but not right next to me). The coach asked him why he was sitting on the sidelines. My son replied, “Because I’m terrible and can’t do the drill right!” The coach bent down so he could get eye-to-eye with him and explained, “You’re a kid. You’re job is to learn. To get better at something you have to practice. Do you think Rinaldi never practiced? He practiced all the time. You’ve got to practice to get good at anything,” he continued, “My job is to show you what you need to do, and when I see you not doing something right, it’s my job to show you a better or different way.” He finished, “You’re not terrible, but you won’t know that unless you get back in there and try.” My son seemed to take his words to heart, but wasn’t convinced. The coach then added, “if you don’t practice, you don’t play in the game,” which was enough to get my son back on the field.

The coach and I made eye-contact and he mouthed, “I got this.” And sure enough he did. My son listened more carefully throughout the remainder of practice and even scored a goal towards the end of the practice game. You could see his confidence grow. His expression reminded me of my own experience when I’ve learned something I’ve struggled with, finally getting over the hump and realizing I can do this. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. It feels great.

I’m thankful that the coach helped my son through his challenge. Not all coaches would have done that, but in my opinion, the good ones do. Struggles are going to happen, and as much as we’d like to help our child, it will sometimes fall to a coach, teacher, leader or a friend’s parent that they respect. As much as I am present with my child, others being present–really seeing my child and helping them see their own potential–will be a big part of his experience growing up. I’m thankful for those who have already played this role, and those that will in the future. Thank you!

Who helps your child work through things they struggle with? Who is a mentor or role model for your child?

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