substitute coaching

Helping out colleagues and taking risks

There he sat, smiling graciously at me and pleading with me. “You’ll really help us out”. He wasn’t pushy but he clearly wanted an affirmative response. He coaches my son’s U14 soccer team. He’s a really nice guy. So, how could I refuse him?

Oh, it was the last thing I wanted to do and it was way outside my comfort zone.

Thus I found myself standing in the rain on a cold and dreary Dutch day in Amsterdam on the sidelines of a soccer game.

“Coach,” someone calls out, “here is the key to the changing rooms.” Of course I want to laugh out loud and announce to all present, “I’m not a real coach. I’m a substitute and I have no idea what I’m doing!” I resist the urge and follow the instructions to take my team to prepare for the game.

I inform the hosting coach from Amsterdam that I am a substitute coach and that we are without substitutes (our three strongest players are not here today) , not sure why I felt the urge to do that. However, he scans our scrappy little group and for whatever reason, offers us two of his players as substitutes for our first game. We are very grateful for this generous gesture.

Before I feel ready,  our boys are out on the field in a vigorous match against Luxembourg. The opposing team is hammering us. Thank goodness our boys have the option to request substitution to take a break when they are exhausted. One of the boy’s father is knowledgeable of soccer and gives me some pointers that are very helpful. The boys respond to my “coaching” and try to follow the instructions.  However, as the score ratchets up in favor of our opponents I’m feeling more and more like I have a big neon label announcing “new, clueless coach." Despite playing better, our team remains unable to score a second goal. Before I can dive too deeply into my shame, the torture is over and the players are running out onto the field to shake hands and exclaim, “good game." I watch for a moment, relishing the fact that the game is over, before realizing the coaches are supposed to bring up the rear of the congratulatory line. Hurriedly I join them on the field. It’s over. Just one more game to go.

The hosting school is our next opponent and, of course, the coach wants his players back but he offers us another one who wasn’t scheduled to play that day but has showed up and wants to play. So, we have one substitute and that is a huge help, especially since he is a real asset to the team and clicks with our players. The boys start to play better, the goalie is on fire, and I’m feeling more comfortable in my role. We find ourselves leading 3:0. During quarter breaks my confidence manifests itself in my approach with the team. In the end, we triumph with a 6:4 win over Amsterdam. Our boys are exuberant; after all it’s their first win of the season. I realize, that I have had fun myself. I realize, in a crunch, I’d be happy to help out again.

So, the advice my students receive from me is true, in exiting one’s comfort zone (or in IB terminology, in being a risk taker) we enlarge our circles of experience and become more rounded as human beings. Experiencing a soccer game from a coach’s perspective has been invigorating. Seeing my students in a new situation has been enlightening. And I’ve discovered something new that I enjoy.

Therefore, if someone asks you to help out but you’re unsure because you feel inadequate or unqualified, just go for it. It will probably turn out OK, you’ll learn and grow, and you might discover a new pleasure in life.