Some years ago, one of my 13 year olds rolled his ankle during a Monday practice. The next day, Steve* went to the doctor. His mom emailed telling me it wasn’t a big deal. I told her to hold him out of Wednesday’s practice and we’d see how he was doing for Thursday’s game.

On Thursday, I was standing on the sideline before all the kids had arrived just milling about. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Steve limping badly across the field. As he got closer to me, where he thought I might see him, he clearly tried very hard not to limp or at least make it look like he wasn’t limping. But it was clear to me he wasn’t close to 100 percent.

So he sat down near me and started putting his cleats on. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was getting ready for the game. I told him he wasn’t playing because he was still hurt. He swore up and down he was okay. I tried to reason with him: we have a big rivalry game on Saturday and I want you 100 percent for that. He kept trying to persuade me he was fine. Finally, I just told him sorry you’re not playing and that’s final.

He threw his cleats to the ground and started to walk away, facing away from everyone. Still, I could see tears running down his face.

I immediately had a different appreciation for Steve. I loved the fact that he cared so much about the sport that missing a single game in 8th grade against an undistinguished opponent made him cry. It’s that passion that made him such a special player.

Incidentally, because Steve was unavailable, I gave Dave* a chance to play forward; he’d been primarily a defensive midfielder. Dave was a nice kid who worked really hard and was very scrappy but his skills were so-so. 

In six years of playing school soccer, Dave did not score a single goal in any other game.

In this particular game, he scored a hat trick in 11 minutes against a team that had shut us out the previous time. Remarkable! But it’s a testament to taking your opportunity! 

*-Not their real names


Coaches playing favorites

This is from a post on a forum in which a player (not mine) asked about how to deal with coaches who play favorites. And yes, all coaches have favorites. But this is not always irrational, not always unfair.


OF COURSE, I have favorites.

I prefer the guys who work their butts off in training.

I prefer the guys who get results in games.

I prefer the guys who follow my instructions.

I prefer the guys who adapt to game conditions without me having to tell them every little thing.

I prefer the guys who treat their teammates the right way.

I prefer the guys who aren’t afraid to ask me what they can do to get better, because it shows drive and initiative.

I prefer the guys who held themselves accountable and their teammates as well.

I prefer guys who work to keep their starting positions or work to try and gain them, ahead of guys who think they are owed something simply because of who they are or whatever.

So yea, I have favorites. And most coaches do. But you know what, I’m also a player. And as a player, I have favorite teammates. I’ll bet you do too.

But it’s not like it’s some irrational thing where I throw darts at a board and love those random people or love whomever’s mommy and daddy sucks up to me the most. Get real.

Last year, I had a kid that had come to play a lot in the 2nd half of last year. But he got a little too comfortable and thought he was all that and wasn’t taking practice seriously. One day, he comes up to me and asks, “Coach, how can I be a starter?” I told him to quit goofing off in practice and focus. He did so I started him the next couple of games just because I was really just looking for him to show a little passion, like he actually gave a darn. Talent isn’t the only factor in coaches’ decision making.

It’s also important that you ask the coach in the right way.

DON’T say “How come I’m not playing as much as I used to?” It makes you sound pouty and entitled.

DO say, “What can I do to get more playing time?” It makes you sound motivated but not whiny or arrogant. Basically what you’re saying is “I respect your authority as coach. I just want you to respect my desire to play as much as possible.”

Also be careful of your tone. Sound like you’re honestly curious, not bitter or angry (even if you really are).

So quit your self-pity, take some initiative and ASK the coach. Any decent coach will have an answer to give you, even if it’s not one you like. Different coaches have different systems and place importance on different things. But at least you’ll then know instead of wild, ill-informed speculation.

If the coach won’t answer your question, THEN you’ll know he’s a crappy coach.