Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Coaching Conundrum

Boston, gorgeous ...

My wife stood at one end of the pool, glaring at the figure splashing toward her. "She's just not kicking," said Lauri, exasperated. "And her turns are a mess."

I was dumbfounded. Maddi, our eldest daughter, was finishing a practice session, and the water seemed to literally part before her (check out those shoulders in the accompanying photo!). I couldn't believe this 12-year-old, who is far from fleet of foot on the soccer field, made swimming seem so effortless.

"Go easy on her, honey," I quipped. "She looks great." Lauri turned to me, and said sharply: "I can't believe you are telling me to relax."

She was right. I quickly realized why the words I'd just uttered sounded so familiar. They were Lauri's words, almost verbatim, delivered six years ago following one of Maddi's soccer games. Being an avid soccer player, I couldn't wait for my own girls to play. The minute Maddi was old enough to join youth soccer, I signed her up, and volunteered to coach. She was six, I was 44. Clearly, we had different agendas. For me, soccer is truly "the beautiful game," a sport of subtlety, skill, and speed. For Maddi, soccer was social hour. When one opponent – a friend – went running past her, Maddi commented: "Sheridan, I like your hair!" I was apoplectic.

Lauri counseled patience. "This is supposed to be fun. Give her time." It was a humbling lesson. I wanted so badly for Mary to embrace the game I cherish that I lost sight of what it meant to her. Lauri provided a constant, and crucial, counterweight.

Then a funny thing happened. Maddi and Brynne (our second) started swimming, and Lauri, a former competitive swimmer, started coaching. The role reversal was swift and stunning. I was now the inexperienced observer, simply admiring these powerful girls motoring through their laps, laughing with their friends. Lauri was the trained eye, invariably focusing on the flaws in our daughters' strokes, urging them to work harder.

Today, Lauri and I strive to maintain this good-natured yin and yang. I coach Maddi in lacrosse, and Brynne, now 10, in soccer and hockey. I want them to be competitive and committed, investing the requisite effort (hence my oft-repeated adage, "The better you get, the more you'll enjoy it."). Keeping everything in perspective is paramount, though, as we remind each other that fun is an essential component, for all four of us.


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