I’ve been coaching for almost 18 years now. Almost half of my life has been dedicated to working with kids and soccer. For all the success, championships, opportunities and inspiring sessions that I’ve been part of…there’s still one story that constantly haunts me yet inspires me to push forward. It’s also a story I’ve never told to anyone.
So this is part redemption, part acknowledgement of my own shortcomings and also part of the process of education that can serve parents and players on their journey through youth soccer.
In 2007 I had a player that came to my club team who was less than skilled. Her motor skills, control, physique, strength, emotional maturity were less than stellar. For this story I’ll name her Erin.
The challenge for me as a coach was that she was significantly behind the rest of the team that I was training. When she was on the team or on the field we weren’t a better team. Players wouldn’t pass to her. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t kick a ball. But because of the club dynamics she was on the team. I was told to “deal with her.”
Money in the Bank
My club directors, basically told me, that she paid for the team–she’s my problem. I didn’t have to give her equal playing time, but she had to stay on the team. As long as her parents paid, she’s fine. ( great message, right!?)
As a coach, I was torn, I knew she needed help but I couldn’t give it to her on the field. She needed strength, physical coordination, basic athletic development.
Oh yeah, she was also younger by two years on the team since we didn’t have a younger team she was on our team.
At this point I’m sure you want to hear how I made it all better. Well, that’s the point. I didn’t.
Where to Turn?
I recommended to dad one day that he think about placing his daughter in a local clinic/ long term program to help her. He did the research and only found one 18 week program for footskills development through the local soccer facility.
After about seven weeks it didn’t really help her. She still couldn’t strike a ball. Her speed and running technique were still bad. The only thing that got better was her footskills. But even those were not useful to her because all she ever did was a pull back. (I’ve written extensively on that, including a video)
January came and went– things were still bad. Kids on the team were saying things, parents were asking how she got onto the team. No one would pass her the ball. Shoulders would shrug when she even got the ball. One player even stole the ball from her — still I couldn’t find a solution.
At this point I did what I thought was the greatest intention, but it ultimately backfired….
Intentions don’t always pan out.
I called dad and suggested that she try out for another team, a local community club at her skill level.
After several furious emails, between her parents and the club directors, they basically quit the team, threw me under the bus and left the team.
She quit soccer a year later.
Here’s the problem.
I had NO WHERE to send her to find the help they needed. Nor did they.
I tried sending her to the local clinic, but they only did ball skills.
I tried coaching her on my team, but we couldn’t fit in all the little things of athletic development.
Ball striking on my team, at that time, was only once a week on Sunday’s in a gym.
Athletic development, strength, movement, coordination were only ideas that fit into my overall session.
I couldn’t send her a link in an email to learn more about developing as a player.
Her parents had no where to go to stay on a high level club team and work on the basic skills that needed attention –so that she could stay on that team.
There wasn’t anything she could do that didn’t require her to be part of a team or part of a club. It wasn’t there in 2007. It didn’t exist.
The Ends Don’t Justify The Means.
That team ended up doing very well. Winning their district tournament, producing several great players in the state and advancing to premier status years later. But it always haunts me that I threw away a player.
That the system that I had participated in left a player behind because they had no where to go get the development they needed.
Well Erin, if you’re anywhere out there, I want you to know that I tried to create a place for you here.
I’ve tried to build LeftFoot Coaching Academy as a home for every player to have as a place to grow without having to win.
To build a place where you can work on everything, physically, mentally, technically and even spiritually that will provide you a safe place to develop even though your club team doesn’t or even can’t.
For all the success of the greatest players, the greatest teams and the championships, to this day, it doesn’t compare to the failure as a coach I had with you that still haunts me to this day.
I let you down. I failed. Our system failed you. If you’re out there, I’m sorry.
Create a Place Where…
And that failure drives me to create a place where everyday I work on making the little things better.
That we create a place where we don’t just work on footskills, but that I coach the skills that would have kept you on the top team.
That we create players that any coach would want.
I want to let you know I see you in every player that comes into our academy.
I feel your presence in every young girl that dreams of becoming a better player.
I recognize the dream of being part of something bigger in every boy that steps foot on our field.
I won’t let you down again.
I’m pushing my newest team of coaches to guarantee success of every player that walks in our doors. I’m pushing from that place of failure to help every player reach their goals.
I still haven’t found the exact formula for each and every player, but I think I’m doing something right.
After four years of pain staking development of LeftFoot Coaching Academy and on the eve of our Two Year Anniversary, I think I’ve created a place for you here.
More Than Footskills.
I think we’ve created a home for over 200 students across the state of Minnesota to have a place to get stronger, faster, better and we’ve taught more than footskills.
I know I still have a lot to do.
We’re still seen as just a training facility to some people. Just another training program. Something people do for youth soccer.
But I’m trying every day to make up for that one failure —and while I know I can’t make it up I hope that someday, somehow I can forgive my mistakes as a coach, move on and leave a legacy not based on failure but based on doing the right thing for every kid who just wants to play soccer.
It’s the idea of 1% better every day that I’ve truly learned to appreciate… five years ago I realized what was truly missing from youth soccer was a home for every player.
Five years later, we’re still creating a home for you here.
But it’s here now.
You have a place here now.