Football from the stands (not the sideline, and not the pitch)

This is the first year in a long time that I am not coaching nor even playing football (soccer for the Philistines on the other side of the pond). Instead I get to see all my nephew’s games from the stands – and it is fun!

For fourteen years I coached soccer. One of the first schools I worked at (Milton Academy) needed an assistant Boys Varsity coach, having played more or less all my life I got the gig! Walnut Hill being an arts school did not have an athletic program, but that did not stop us from playing pickup on Friday afternoons, we had a blast. And we found out that future K Pop star Eddy Kim had a lovely touch! At Buckingham Browne and Nichols they needed a Girls Varsity Assistant coach, that changed my whole perspective on the sport. I had never payed much attention to girls soccer, but I quickly found out that they play as a team much more than the boys do. They pass the ball much more, and big plus, they look like they are listening to the coach!

At UNC I really had the football bug, so I organized the Romance Studies Community Soccer program to play on Friday afternoons. This was a great way of getting the grad students together with some undergrads and different folks that would join. It was good fun and occasionally a bit competitive which gave it a good edge!

At Seacrest Country Day in Naples Florida, I was honored to be the Head Girls Varsity coach. These girls worked super hard and we had a great two seasons, building a team. Since Seacrest is a small school, the sense of community is very big and I really felt embraced by the team. Occasionally I would step in to help out the boys’ team. One such time was the District final game which we won for the first time in history. What a thrill to have been on the sideline of that game!

Now back in the old country I  miss coaching, but every Saturday with my sister and sometimes my nieces I enjoy just watching my nephew play! It is all the fun, without the responsibilities, and, of course, I get to critique the coaches – and the players!! Vamos Chamar!!

On the beauty and importance of coaching

 

School athletics are, or should be, an extension of the classroom. Any other approach: the hyper competitive, the path to college or pro sports, or the “keep them busy”, is misguided and possibly more harmful than beneficial to an adolescent. Having said that, it is of course healthy and necessary to be competitive, to have a keen eye for exceptional talent and, of course, to have sports be fun and entertaining.

In my case, I was lucky to start coaching and teaching at the same time allowing me to learn the important and symbiotic relationship between the classroom and the sports field. What is more, I often find the classroom a sterile place where students turn on the “auto-pilot” when they walk in and just focus on the day’s lesson. Sports require a different mind-set. First, you cannot sit there and wait to have the lesson delivered, if you do, then sitting –on the bench– is what you will get, come game day. Second, research has proven how activity wakes up your brain cells, making you more receptive to learning, and finally, of course, sports are fun, more so than say, the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish.

My first coaching gig was Assistant Boys Varsity Soccer at Milton Academy, followed by Head Boys JV Tennis. Since then I have coached girls varsity soccer, boys tennis, even co-ed fencing at Buckingham Brown and Nichols! (I had a brief introduction to foil in my college days). I was even the Ski Club advisor at Walnut Hill. Each season has been a great learning journey and a lot of fun. What I enjoy the most are the life lessons that can be taught on the field and on the endless bus and van rides to and from games. Seacrest does not have vans, let alone a bus, so students have to provide their own transport to local games, something that other than dangerous, takes away a big part of being in a team, which is the camaraderie. Few things are as bonding as that ride.

In Florida, football (the one where they carry something that is not a ball with their hands) is a religion, so schools do not book many sports that might interfere with football. Fall sports other than football are limited to swimming and cross-country. So  soccer is played in the winter, which is fine when you consider that Florida does not have a winter per se.

At Seacrest I coached the Girls Varsity Soccer team. Our season had a massive learning curve with 11 losses and 2 wins, but we had a great time! By the end of the season we had figured out how the back four are supposed to work. Next season we shall figure out how the front end should work. The girls put in a great effort and it was very rewarding to see them improve and learn how to move on the field.

In the Spring I coached the Girls Varsity Tennis. Although an individual sport, tennis in the US is played as a team sport in High School and University. Each game consists of five singles games and two doubles games, with a point won per game. Our team has some very high level players that train with a coach every day and some less so, including a total beginner, which made for a very diverse and “human” team. We even had 8th grade girls move up for games when we had injuries or absences. This was a great experience for the little ones that offered them a chance to play with the “big girls” and gain valuable experience for next year. On Wednesdays, when some players where practicing with their coaches and we did not have access to the courts because the boys or the middle school where playing a game, we would hit the gym, or practice yoga on one of the lawns. Yes, our record was much better than at soccer, our Third Singles player was nominated Prep of the week by the local paper and she even won the District title for her category!

The main problem with coaching is how time-consuming it is. There is practice every day after school from 4:30 to 6, and then there are games, some are an hour away in Fort Myers which means getting back to school as late as 11 which is bad enough for the coach, but the poor players! The local paper must be informed of game scores so they can publish the results, practice drills must be prepared, etc. Basically I had no life from mid-October to mid-April.

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