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The novice coach

Updated: May 30, 2022

Kevin was the 5th grade coach for my son’s soccer team. They played in the Junior Montgomery County Soccer league.

Unfortunately, they lost every single game that season.

One of the team moms came to our house and announced we’d be hiring Kevin again as coach for the following season.

I: Why?

She: Kevin is a seasoned coach. He’s very good.

I: Very good? He was late for several practice sessions and didn’t show up sometimes giving us short notice. Besides, the team lost every game.

She: So will you coach?

I: I’ve never played soccer in my life. We’ll need to find a coach.

Long story short….I coached my son’s team next soccer season. The rationale I built up for myself was that I couldn’t do any worse than Kevin had done. And my services were free. (We paid Kevin three thousand bucks).

I prepped by buying a video on coaching by the legendary Brazilian soccer coach Zico. The one suggestion from him I still remember is to draw opponent players to one side of the field, shoot the ball across to an unmarked player on the other side, then score (taking care not to be off side).

At practice, we set up small red cones in a straight line (for the purpose of running and dribbling the soccer ball back and forth between them) and goalposts (measuring half the width of a regular goal for kicking practice).

When I asked the team to dribble and shoot, the boys paid no attention, running across the field chasing each other. The parents too were at their social best, mingling.

It was quite an all around shock when I yelled “Hey!” at the top of my voice.

Thereafter, I used my voice liberally, (military style - short barks - I had issued commands to National Cadet Corps Battalions when I was a student). Things fell into place. The kids, dribbled, passed, shot, took corner kicks, according to my barks.

A few parents were offended at my demeanor and some of my ensuing actions. One of them threw the (rules) book at me, but more on that in a later post. I did balance the desire to win against the desire to be genteel on the parents’ part.

Happily, I had the support of most parents. One of them bought me a whistle to supplement my barbaric voice.

Our team went in for the first county soccer match of the season. The opposing team had a professional British coach, and they pumped four goals into our net, one after the other. I was devastated.

At half time I passed out drinks and snacks brought in voluntarily by parents. Then I asked the team to huddle around me and for the first time, I spoke in a whisper. I asked the boys not to chase the opposing players enmasse, to maintain relative positions, to use short passes, draw in the other team, use a long pass and score. At the end of my little speech we did high fives with a roar.

Believe it or not, our team scored four goals in the second half. The first couple of goals were strategically scored and the last two were sheer momentum and team spirit. The match was drawn.

Again, believe it or not, there was no other draw, our team won every remaining match in that Montgomery County soccer season.

We had a story book ending and many happy memories come to mind.

The one uppermost is about David, a quiet kid from my son’s school, who hardly spoke but who was a travel team soccer player (he was too good to be on regular county teams). David approached me during a practice session and asked in a surprisingly ringing voice, “See the bushes at that corner? They’re too close. You can’t run to take a corner kick from there. Have someone short pass the ball to a team mate nearby, and have this team mate take a long shot to the goal.” I relayed David’s instructions to the team.

And that’s exactly what happened during a match the very next day!

My son took a corner kick, passed it to Mickey who was close. Mikey took a powerful shot towards the goal, and Max, at the goal post, headed it in! It‘s as if the goal was inevitable. The team was performing like clockwork.

Each match was an intense 90 mins of action that I looked forward to and dreaded simultaneously. Although it was a junior level game, my adrenaline rush was up there for the duration. I yelled instructions, attended to injuries, made sure all 18 team members got time on the field, encouraged member morale briefly, etc.

There was a bit of parental politics involved, but our team came through. After the final win our players were awarded individual championship trophies.

We had a pool party celebration hosted by our best parent friends.

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