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Stay-At-Home Dad: Youth soccer coach notices dramatic improvement

The teams congratulate their opponents during postgame lineup.  |  Howard A. Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media

The teams congratulate their opponents during the postgame lineup. | Howard A. Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:15AM



My favorite moments as an assistant soccer coach last year had nothing to do with scoring goals or aggressive play.

Among the highlights of the 2011 kindergarten soccer season were a girl riding “horseback” on a boy during the game, and a goalie using the flexible flagpole marking the goal to catapult dirt.

I expected more of the same this year. I volunteered to be the head coach for my 6-year-old son’s soccer team. Bubba’s 2012 squad is a combination of first- and second-grade students. I already knew many of the players from coaching last year, as well as from volunteering at school and whatnot.

We held one practice prior to our opening game last week. It was hard to tell if the players had improved during a short series of drills and our subsequent scrimmage.

However, the improvement proved dramatic in our first game. Last year, I preached positions, spacing and being aggressive. These lessons seemed to be completely ignored. When the starting whistle blew, the kindergarten team crowded around the ball en masse, kicking in every direction.

“It’s like herding cats,” one coach remarked during the game.

The kids played differently this year. My defense generally held back. My offense seemed to better grasp the concept of charging the opponent’s goal. I was in awe. Maybe it took a year for all those lessons from kindergarten to sink in.

More likely, it’s the combination of first- and second-grade players that deserves the credit. The older kids are coachable. And as a result, the younger kids follow their lead.

That’s not to say there weren’t some hiccups along the way. One player was so distracted by picking his nose that I actually pulled him aside to be sure he hadn’t lost something up there.

Another player reacted as though he’d just been cut with a chain saw when he was kicked in the shins. His phantom injury occurred despite wearing shin guards.

Still, we played a great game. The improved play also offered a chance for some self-reflection. And I realized my style of coaching is that of a micromanager. This is undoubtedly frustrating in the workplace, but I think it actually works well for youth sports.

Particularly with soccer, kids don’t know much about the game. I doubt any of my players watch soccer games on television. So a maniac coach barking out instructions and compliments throughout the game can be helpful.

As the final whistle blew, my team lined up to congratulate our opponents. Nobody officially keeps score, but most of the kids know which team has more goals.

I reminded them that the score doesn’t really matter because we all had fun. The look on their rosy faces was one of exhaustion and excitement. So in my book, that’s a big win.

We headed to the sideline to dole out post-game treats. A flock of sweaty kids grabbed Capri-Sun pouches and Goldfish crackers. They then walked away happy.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed — no matter how old you are the postgame snack is always a highlight.

Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.

He can be reached at howardaludwig@yahoo.com.



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