I Learned The Most From My Toughest Coach

I Learned The Most From My Toughest Coach

He might have given me some of the hardest days of my life, but in the end, he really was a good coach.
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Well, this looks... interesting, I thought to myself as I surveyed the turf. Boys, all around the same age as me, were scattered around the field, like toys in a toddler's messy room. It was my first practice as a select soccer player. I had played soccer for a while before then but had played at the rec level before deciding to take the step up into select soccer that year. As I finished tying up my shoes and warming up, a man emerged from the training rooms.

He stomped up the hill and announced in a deep, thick African accent, "Ok everyone, line up! 10 laps around the field, let's go! Do it quickly!" Little did I know that I would spend the next two years hating that man, who I would call my coach for my next four seasons. Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday I would wake up and immediately feel anxious about the upcoming practice or game. However, my coach taught me many valuable life lessons that have helped me mature and become the person and player I am today.

My coach taught me to persevere through the tough times.

And trust me, there were a lot of those during my time with him. There were days when I would go there, and it would just be one strenuous drill after another, with him yelling at us the entire time. Those days had an immense physical toll on me, too. I would come home without a single iota of energy left in me. All I wanted to do is collapse on my bed and lay there for hours. But I had to get up, push through the pain and continue to work. I learned that to see results, you must fight through the lowest of the lows. Time and time again, I had to persevere, push away thoughts of quitting and keep working to get better. Now, I have gained that mentality of never giving up and fighting until the end, and I can thank my coach for that.

My coach taught me is leadership.

I learned very quickly that being the quiet, calm kid will get me nowhere. Instead, I had to step up and learn how to lead. And trust me, with a group of rowdy soccer players my age, learning was not easy at all. But over time, with the (harsh) guidance of my coach, I learned proper leadership skills and methods that I use almost every day now. I may have complained endlessly about his yelling and strictness, but my first coach gave me one of my most valuable skills, and I am grateful to him for that.

My first soccer coach also taught something else important, but this one is unlike the other two. During practice, he would always be criticizing, yelling and glaring at one player or another. That set all the players on edge. As a result, there were many disagreements and sometimes even fights among players.Through the disagreements, I learned to find the positives in everyone and that I should always stay optimistic. Over the seasons, I used those two skills to get on the good side of all of my teammates and soon, I was on good terms with almost all of the team. I implemented those two skills into my daily life, and the results have been phenomenal.

Four seasons of Coach S. led to lots of frustration, anger and pain in the beginning. It was really hard to endure the mental and physical toll of his intense practices, training and games. However, I learned many life lessons from my time with him that I can use both in my future soccer career and my personal life. So, I guess he was a good coach after all.

Thank you, Coach S.

Cover Image Credit: Abdullah Chandasir

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To The Coach Who Ruined The Game For Me

We can't blame you completely, but no one has ever stood up to you before.
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I know you never gave it a second thought, the idea that you're the reason I and many others, never went any farther in our athletic careers.

I know you didn’t sincerely care about our mental health, as long as we were physically healthy and our bodies were working enough to play. It’s obvious your calling wasn’t coaching and you weren’t meant to work with young adults, some who look to you as a parent figure or a confidant.

I also know that if we were to express our concerns about the empty feeling we began to feel when we stepped onto the court, you wouldn’t have taken the conversation seriously because it wasn’t your problem.

I know we can't blame you completely, no one has ever stood up to you before. No one said anything when girls would spend their time in the locker room crying because of something that was said or when half the team considered quitting because it was just too much.

We can't get mad at the obvious favoritism because that’s how sports are played.

Politics plays a huge role and if you want playing time, you have to know who to befriend. We CAN get mad at the obvious mistreatment, the empty threats, the verbal abuse, “it's not what you say, its how you say it.”

We can get mad because a sport that we loved so deeply and had such passion for, was taken away from us single-handedly by an adult who does not care. I know a paycheck meant more to you than our wellbeing, and I know in a few years you probably won’t even remember who we are, but we will always remember.

We will remember how excited we used to get on game days and how passionate we were when we played. How we wanted to continue on with our athletic careers to the next level when playing was actually fun. We will also always remember the sly remarks, the obvious dislike from the one person who was supposed to support and encourage us.

We will always remember the day things began to change and our love for the game started to fade.

I hope that one day, for the sake of the young athletes who still have a passion for what they do, you change.

I hope those same athletes walk into practice excited for the day, to get better and improve, instead of walking in with anxiety and worrying about how much trouble they would get into that day. I hope those athletes play their game and don’t hold back when doing it, instead of playing safe, too afraid to get pulled and benched the rest of the season.

I hope they form an incredible bond with you, the kind of bond they tell their future children about, “That’s the coach who made a difference for me when I was growing up, she’s the reason I continued to play.”

I don’t blame you for everything that happened, we all made choices. I just hope that one day, you realize that what you're doing isn’t working. I hope you realize that before any more athletes get to the point of hating the game they once loved.

To the coach that ruined the game for me, I hope you change.

Cover Image Credit: Author's photo

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I'm The Girl Who Left Soccer Behind And I'll Forever Miss The Friends, Cleats, And Orange Peels

As the saying goes..."You never know what you have until it's gone."

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Ten years. That's a long time to put blood, sweat, and tears into something. I suppose it could have been even longer, but I didn't know that at the time. My decision was rash, ill-thought-out, and all too quickly made. But what do you expect of a 15-year-old who was losing their first love right before their eyes?

Ten years. I wouldn't change those ten years for anything. Oh, how I wish I could have them back.

Let me make this a little clearer for you... Beginning at the age of five I found myself falling hard for a sport, and that sport was soccer. It started out in a church league, but it led to early morning games and weekend tournaments. For ten years soccer was my life. It was all I knew. It was all I wanted to know.

All that changed following the fall season of my freshman year of high school. The majority of the girls on my team decided they no longer wanted to play on the challenge level and were content to playing school ball in the spring, so our team disbanded. That forced me to make a decision. I could either join a different challenge team the following fall, or I could quit CASL soccer altogether. I'm sure by now it's quite clear the decision I made. As opposed to continuing my love, I decided I would focus on academics and work on getting accepted to my dream school.

Looking back on that decision, at the time it seemed right. But now, I realize all the reasons I left soccer were merely excuses for why I thought I wasn't good enough. I'd played with the majority of the same girls for those ten years and it scared me to leave all of those friendships behind in an attempt to try to mesh with another group of girls. Stupid, I know, but at the time it seemed like a big deal.

I'm sure you're curious as to why I didn't just join the school team that next spring. I thought about it, don't get me wrong. The truth is, I ended up talking myself out of it by saying I wouldn't have been good enough to do well on a high school soccer team. Now, I'm not going to say I'm the next Mia Hamm by ANY measure, but I was pretty decent. My reasoning for not joining the school team was ridiculous. But that's the decision I made and now I have to live with that.

So there you have it, at 15 years of age I left behind the sport I loved more than anything in the world. If I were to go back now, I wouldn't have made that same decision. But I can't change the past and I have to live with that.

Regret's a funny thing. At the time you don't feel it, but it's there. It hides in the shadows until you least expect it.

For me, it wasn't until my junior year of high school when I went to my cousin's soccer game and realized the mistake I made. As I sat on the sidelines watching these young girls run around the field, my heart yearned to be able to put my jersey on once more and play the sport I knew oh-so-well.

Of course, there are still opportunities for me to play. I could join an intramural team or tryout for club soccer, but it wouldn't feel the same to me. It's as if I'm too far removed from that young girl who loved that sport with so much passion that it consumed her entire life. The competitive fire and love for playing will always be there, but there's rust. Just as there would be if you left a bike out for years without using it. There's a chance I could one day get back to the skill level I was at, but there's no guarantee. Also, as I'm sure almost any competitor knows, it's infuriating to not be able to compete at the capacity you once did.

Maybe I'm once again making excuses, who knows. None of that really matters though because it will never change the decision I made five years ago. Soccer will always have a place in my heart, and will always be a huge part of who I was and who I am. That sport raised me. Not in the way a parent does, but it taught me so many things about myself. It provided me with structure, friendships, and a happy place. It supported me and loved me.

So, yeah, I do regret giving all that up. The day I gave up soccer, I gave up so much more than just a sport.

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