“The reason [I left] is tiredness. If it wasn’t, I would have liked to continue. […] I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries.” – Pep Guardiola (25 May 2012)
“I have taken a decision to return to coaching, but beyond that no decision has been taken. I don’t have a team to go to, but I would like to go back to coaching. I will receive all calls with pleasure, but for the next [few] months I have to recharge my batteries and my mind. I will be ready [to return] if one club wants me and seduces me.” – Pep Guardiola (7 Jan 2013)
Sound familiar? Many coaches experience this feeling at some point, even the world’s greatest professionals. The lucky ones recognize when it’s time for a break before it’s too late. They recharge their batteries and rekindle the passion through rest and rejuvenation while the unlucky wait till it’s too late and risk losing their passion forever.
There are three different kinds of youth soccer coaches in Canada: (1) the well intentioned community servant guilt tripped into coaching or risk program cancellation, (2) the coach with a vested interest, be it personal, professional or financial and (3) those who coach out of passion for the game, often but not always includes the former. Coaches of this group are the ones most likely to experience burnout sometime in their coaching life.
Officially I began coaching my son at U4 in 2006. Technically he had been training and I coaching him in soccer for two years already before that. As registration drew near I began reflecting on my own soccer path and the coaches that helped shape me growing up – I quickly concluded that my kids needed and deserved better! All my coaches were category one or two, I question if I ever had a legit category three coach. My coaches were not bad people, on the contrary they were great people but great people don’t always translate into great soccer coaches. Much has changed in the Canadian soccer landscape since I began playing in 1983; nevertheless, some 23 years later it had not changed enough for me to trust the early stages of my sons development in the hands of someone guilted into or unqualified to do the job. Thus another category two coach enters the system… or was I?
I volunteered to coach so that my son and his teammates could learn from someone who had grown up playing the game, who understood the game and who had the knowledge to get them started out on the right foot. I remember getting my roster and attending a brief “coaches meeting,” looking around I knew not one of those parents had ever played the game at a reasonably competitive level. I suspect most were likely learning the basic laws of the game at that nights meeting. The community centre gave us each a bag of balls (not even one for every kid), a whistle, a timer/stopwatch, four cones and said “bring it all back in two months.” If while reading this you find yourself shaking your head then we are likely still on the same page. I thought to myself, was this really going to be these young boys and girls soccer experience? Suddenly memories of confusion, contradiction and thoughts of “what could have been” came flooding back from the 80’s and 90’s. I didn’t want anyone to reflect on their soccer days and feel they could have been more if not held back by anything other than their own lack of effort and ambition. I knew I was only one of many coaches these players would work with over the years and a lot could go right or wrong for them along the way but I wanted them to reflect positively on their time spent working with me.
It takes several years of practical coaching experience before encountering and learning how to deal with the many issues youth sports coaches will inevitably face. Over the past eight years of coaching I have learned a lot, much of which cannot be found in the training manual of any coaching badge. Did I make mistakes along the way? Hell ya and still do. Beware the coach that claims to have all the answers, they are only kidding themselves. I’ve borne the brunt of the occasional angry parent but without those experiences I would not have grown as a coach. Every club members “two cents” of advice, every complaint, every compliment, they all have something to offer you; how you interpret and handle it will have significant bearing on the coach you eventually become. Becoming a coach isn’t about completing a series of badges, it’s a lifelong journey filled with experiences.
So I told you why I began coaching but not why I continued. I realized my passion for coaching was equal to my passion for playing, I continued because it offered me a connection back to the game I fell in love with 30 years ago. I always knew I would have to let my son go with another coach eventually, if not because I’d reached the limits of my abilities, because I knew kids benefit most learning from a variety of teachers with different ideas and methods. I took the difficult decision to take a break from coaching last fall while my son trained full-time at a top academy in Manitoba. It was a nice break to watch him play from the other side of the pitch, to really focus on and enjoy the talent he is becoming. But as I sit and watch, as nice as it is, a part of me is missing. The game … it’s calling me back.
Upon reflection, I honestly believe the vast majority of players I have had the pleasure to work with will remember our time together positively and for those who don’t, I am deeply sorry to have failed you. Today I enjoy friendships with many of the players and parents I have worked with in the past, particularly in the 2002 and 2003 age groups. Now as I repeat the process with my 4 year old, hopefully a much wiser coach, educated by experiences, I am forming new player and parent bonds with a group of 2009 and 2010’s.
Managing player, parent and club expectations while providing real player growth and development is a demanding science you will not find explained in any national curriculum. Ironically it is the passion of those coaches to which all these things matter that leaves them mentally, emotionally and physically drained over time and in need of rest; and it’s the same passion that always keep them coming back to the game they love!