In win-win world, we long for growth

My good friend Mirian asks one day: "Am I the only coach who doesn't give a (expletive) about winning?"

My good friend Karen says, "My husband tells me parents are here to see their kids win."

I wouldn't know these women if we weren't coaching Under-6 soccer together.

Crowing when we win, suffering when we lose.

A dirty little secret about coaches: Even the wisest, gentlest, most highly evolved spends the rest of Saturday and a good bit of Sunday what-iffing after a 1-0 loss, even in a rec league, even when some of the players are still wearing Pull-Ups.

It's zero-sum, right? You win or you lose. And if you lose, haven't you failed?

The highly evolved part says no. They're too young for us even to keep score. Santiago had a breakthrough last week. He went from standing there, weepy and befuddled, to advancing with the ball. Sebastian stopped backing away from bigger defenders. Jordan paid attention, rushed the ball and pushed himself even when he was tired.

That's what counts, right?

Yet, that feeling in the pit of the stomach.

That like-a-hangover sensation on Monday morning.

I do soccer because, despite this tortured drill, it's therapy.

It's here. It's now. It's pure. It's beautiful.

I can name child after child who conquered fears and mastered new positions and scored first goals under my instruction, and that feels good — really, really good.

I can also recall seasons when I went to the championship after leaving one child bored in defense for 12 straight games instead of giving him a chance to play up front and score. And, honestly, I didn't feel right about it.

So I started evening things out, win or lose, and focused on individual achievement instead of my place in the rankings. You do that, the parents second-guess you. It's like you have to retreat into a cone of silence after the game, only the voices you are blocking out include your own. You could have won that one.

Then you see grown men (and women) throwing tantrums over nonsense (in your view), and the win-or-lose element becomes even more absurd.

Or is it?

Business is zero-sum. You make the sale or you don't. Your company bests the competition or it folds. Sometimes, in a contracting industry, you find yourself in a fight to the death. You will eat because the other guy got a pink slip.

Okay. Okay.

But can't it be different on Saturday morning? With kids still in Pull-Ups?

At soccer I get to reflect on these issues in a setting unlike the four walls of my office.

I see miracles where others see defeat. I see the long view where others obsess about five minutes ago.

I have known Sebastian since he stood on the field and did nothing. This past Saturday he stole the ball, dribbled around two big defenders and took five shots on goal. So he didn't score. He improved. He matured. He is every week a stronger competitor.

The voices in my head will not be quiet. We should have won.

I still want to give the kid a high-five.

In win-win world, we long for growth 04/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 4:31am]

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