In 1985, I joined my first field hockey team. I was in 7th grade and neither I nor my teammates had a clue on how to play the sport. While field hockey had been played for a few years in our town, in contrast to the other sports I played in middle school and high school, it was relatively unknown in the community at that time. Looking back now as a parent and coach, the most remarkable aspect of playing field hockey was that almost all of our parents didn’t have any idea as to what was going on during the games. And, since the parents didn’t understand the game, they didn’t try to coach their daughters. Our sidelines were mostly empty and the parents that did attend, celebrated when we celebrated and felt bad for our big losses. In other words, the coaching was left to our coaches and as players, we had the freedom to make the mistakes necessary to learning a new sport.
A couple of weekends ago, I coached my first soccer game since the start of Covid. It was one of the most joyful experiences I have had in awhile. Partially, I was so grateful to watch the girls get back an important aspect of their pre-Covid lives, celebrate great plays, get frustrated at missed passes, clump together (even though they had a HUGE field to play on) and then spread out again. But even more so, I was struck by the shift in the coaching reality right now. These days, coaches must be masked and socially distanced, but rather than encountering challenges with those restrictions, I found a huge upside. We cannot shout to our players on the field because they either can’t hear us or understand us due to our masks. As an effect, so much of our coaching happens on the sidelines when kids are watching the game on the field or waiting to be subbed. When standing near them, we ask the girls what they noticed on the field and that gives us information about their understanding of the game and helps us figure out where we can help them. It also allows us to build a real rapport with our players, which is so paramount in good coaching.
Coaching for both Dynamo Girl and my kids’ youth sports teams, I have thought so much about the negative impact all the yelling has on the kids. Even when we understand that philosophically and have the best of intentions, watching a good youth sports game is so exciting and before we know it, we are yelling non-stop all in the frame of being “helpful”. But, so often, the yelling can confuse the players and make them feel like they can’t make mistakes. Positive feedback is one thing, micro coaching is another. Right now, in addition to the coaches being masked, parents are also required to be masked and socially distanced. Therefore, at our girls’ first games, the parent sidelines are pretty quiet. That unusual quiet on the sidelines reminded me of my years playing field hockey and suddenly, the mask that I and the other adults were wearing felt like a true gift.
As my players went back onto the field this weekend, I let my mask remind me of those quiet sidelines of my past. I wanted my players to make mistakes and learn from them this week without my yelling about what they need to do differently. I let the mask remind me that the quiet one-on-one conversations were the type of coaching that I not only want to do, but that I love to do. And, it reminded how grateful I am to have the honor of coaching a bunch of kids at the beginning stages of their athletic careers.