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Coaching my boy is a great problem to have
Six years on and I can still picture his face!
We’d negotiated our way through a summer tournament all the way to that final that seemed all important in our first year at U7. We’d kept to our evolving philosophies all year. Everybody plays, Every Child Counts. We’d stayed true to that belief throughout the day. Every player had played in the same number of matches but those minutes had been cleverly worked to negotiate our way out of the group. Shrewd rotation of Champions League proportions shown by this naïve and inexperienced coach. A pathway to the final carved out!
We start the final well. 1-0 early on in a ten minute game against a side we had beaten a few times that year and we relax waiting for a comfortable victory. I wait for a few more goals. Secure the result before Hazza (my Hazza) goes on. He’s smaller than the rest. He loves football the same as the next kid and all the boys love him but this is a final after all. Adults are all out of their comfortable chairs and gazebos. The touchlines are full with what we all believe is positive encouragement. The opposition raise their game but can’t score. Five minutes in, five to go and time for the pre-planned substitution. I put my only son on and he races onto the field, chasing the ball he’s not likely to kick. The replaced player stands by me, taller, stronger and a goal-scorer. Our opponents come close, running past Hazza as if he wasn’t there. I panic and make the call. ‘SUB PLEASE REF……………HAZZA’. He looks at me with disbelief. His face crumples and he jogs off, tears in his eyes but stands beside his Dad and watches the rest of the game. Betrayed.
The whistle goes, everybody erupts in the 1-0 win. Hazza runs on, hugs his mates, shakes hands with others and then hugs his Dad. He’s forgotten already. He’s played loads of football during the day and will go on that evening to show his Grandad and Uncles his new trophy. Everybody is delighted but the same question goes round and round my head.
‘Would I have dared to treat anybody else’s child that way?’
The worst position on a football pitch? The Coach’s Son! Invariably, the reason that most of us get involved in the first place and if you’ve read my previous blog, he’s often the player who has had the most impact on our philosophies. So why is it different? Why is that boy never ‘Just Another Player’, the same as the rest? Why do we find it such a challenge to be Parent and Coach at the same time? Is it just as hard for the Coach as it is the player?
Nobody wants to read another clichéd piece about the son getting moaned at in the car on the way home, or at the dinner table. We’ve all heard that before (although I’m sure it remains true). I’d rather concentrate, perhaps self-indulgently on what it’s like on the other side. As a coach, you’re expected to be impartial. Your son is just one of a squad. Played the same amount of time as the rest and rotated in and out of the squad in the same way. However, how much do we miss as parents when we take on the coaching role.
Before I go too far, our team of Grassroots Parents have been excellent to date. Second to absolutely nobody in our club or league. Supportive to every player and all understanding the commitment to ensuring Every Child Counts. I mean no criticism to any of them, I love what we do and what we have achieved as a group so far. However, in my role, there is something I have to trade away.
I’ve never stood and watched my son play.
That may seem a ridiculous statement, given the hours we spend together on training pitches and matches. He plays most weeks and my eyes are firmly on the field. However, with anything up to 20 players to take into account. I’ve never been able to stand back, relax and watch my boy play a game of football (he’s not ‘good enough’ to represent the school). I never give him my undivided attention at a match. He was introduced to the game we both love by a Dad that never properly watches him play. That I have to trade away when I dilute my time and energy throughout the group. He’s happy and I’m happy. Both of us know what the situation is and readily accept it. Why? Because we can get so much more out of this.
Hazza assisted me with a Goalkeeping Workshop recently. As we travelled, I asked him what it’s like to have a Dad as a coach. Much as I’d love him to tell me it’s awesome, he answered with typical honesty. He told me it’s good and it’s bad. When some of them misbehave or bicker, he feels he’s the one that gets spoken to directly. For some reason, he’s made aware by me if any players are late. He doesn’t think that’s fair. I’m glad I asked.
He feels that I give him a reasonable amount of pitch time and attention but is well aware that others have more. He tells me that he can’t remember a time when he played a game from start to finish. Other kids tell him he’s only in the team because his Dad is coach, even though he knows there are players less capable than him who also get every chance to play. Our end of season rewards are based on effort and improvement and he's resigned to the fact he can't win my vote, however hard he tries. As the players get older and agendas change, he takes the brunt of player frustrations on Monday mornings, never short on advice as to ‘what your Dad should have done!’ It has me wondering if the player that inspired me to get involved the most, is often the one enjoying it the least and that is very difficult for me to deal with.
Thankfully, he got round to the positives!
He told me he knows he gets total support and taken to games. He’s the only one whose Dad is always there. He says he doesn’t feel pressure to perform and he knows that his best is all he can give. He said that I never criticize his game or things he has tried, accepting him for who he is. We both agreed that whilst he’s always picked up on behaviour before others, I’m asking no more from him at football than life in general? He goes on to tell me the best bit about going home with the coach. He tells me that he gets to talk about the matches before and after and mostly in a positive way. He never feels he has the blame (from me at least). We get to bounce ideas around his evolving football brain. ‘What are the benefits of certain formations?’ ‘How can he make the most of his strengths and improve his weaknesses?’ I love listening to his thoughts and opinions on what we should try as a team and where I can improve the sessions. We both know that it’s extremely unlikely he’ll play at a high level but he’s already talking about trying to work in sport, taking courses and trying to work with young teams as soon as we feel he can. The theory side of the GCSE PE seem to be inspiring him as he understands there’s more to sport than the ability to perform on the field. The conversations we have are his choices. We rarely talk about who should get the Ballon D’or and not much time is given to transfer rumours or manager sackings. He talks about football. Our football.
He tells me that’s what he gets out of having a Coach for a Dad. We both agree that neither of us would have it any other way, even though it’s imperfect. Brian Clough used to refer to his son as ‘My Number 9’, distancing himself from the player he was most proud of. None of us know what their relationship was like away from the field. I like to think it was an honest, open and inspiring one. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a Favourite Player.
Coaching my Boy has been a great problem to have. Working with him has taught us both so much and as he now takes his first steps into coaching, spending time with good coaches, away from his Dad. I’m looking forward to watching him become the Coach I can learn so much more from.
Thanks for reading
(Big thanks to Hazza for helping me to write this - I understand more now)
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