The End of An Era

Well, today was a very tough one. In fact, I can’t remember a rougher day. It has been brewing for some time now and, as Becky has said, it was like a necessary visit to the Doctor’s office: you dread it, but you feel better for having gone.

I quit coaching today. Countless dollars, hours, and effort have been put behind me.

When I was very young, I’m not sure what age I was – probably elementary school, I played on a SAY soccer team. I was shy, not the most aggressive or the most skilled, but I had a role on the team. To this day I remember my coach’s names – Durbin and Renner. I probably can’t remember my elementary teachers’ names as well. They both were good coaches and always made certain all of us knew we contributed to the team’s success. As a young adult, I had the opportunity to coach and thought I should pass on that positive experience I had gained from my coaches to another generation.

When Matt was five, back in 1993, I coached his indoor team upstairs at the Rec. It was little more than a pack of kids running loose after the ball, but it was terribly entertaining. I coached him outdoors in the Rec department leagues. When he made Von Clendenon’s team I helped as an assistant. I was glad to help and I although my participation dropped off after a while I enjoyed it and thought I made a difference.

Michelle was there every step of the way. She tried to keep up with Matt indoor at the Rec, and as a result, she probably got a head start on some of her peers. Through the years I coached both her and Matt in Rec. It was tough but rewarding coaching, two teams. I tried to learn the pitfalls of coaching watching Von coach Matt’s team. I learned some good lessons and some bad, but I wanted to apply them all to Michelle’s teams.

Eventually, Michelle made a select team, and I was placed in the coach’s role. If it’s not immodest, I was the best-qualified parent although they might not all agree with me. I’ve grown very close to the girls in the past five years. You get very close to the girls. It gets hard to see them struggle but when they succeed, I’ve always found that very rewarding. I would not be surprised if I feel closer to the girls then they do to me. I’m just an adult who spent time with them on during games and practices. That doesn’t really bother me. If there’s even one kid in the years I have been coaching who will be inspired to do the same for the next generation, then I’ve met my goal.

The circumstances around my ‘retirement’ are sad ones. It’s funny when you first get into coaching everyone tells you the worst, most challenging part, is the parents. Your first reaction is a skeptical “Sure”. Through the years that lesson gets clearer and clearer. You finally get to the point where managing the relationship with the parents is the job. The day that happens you stop becoming a coach – whether you realize it or not. It’s a slippery slope and once you take the first step it’s hard to regain your footing.

After the end of this past season, my parents held a parents meeting without me. They decided I was no longer the right person to coach their daughters. I was not providing enough technical instruction, I was not motivating them, and I was not providing enough discipline. I was called by a parent and asked to meet ‘over drinks to discuss soccer’. When I got there, there were three fathers. They informed me of the parent’s decision. They informed me that all of the parents except the three new families to the team had met and reached the above conclusions.

Now the club we are in assigns coaches. They are not selected by the parents. At the meeting, I agreed to bring on another parent the parents originally wanted to coach the team. I would remain as the head coach, and the new parent would run practices. We agreed that I would conduct a parent meeting in two weeks and notify the parents of the change. Becky and I were of course crushed by the news. To find out that you are so disconnected from a group of people you have spent five years working with was very disturbing. I was very shaken by the meeting and really questioned how I could be so out of touch with a group of people. The more Becky and I talked the more convinced we became that we were simply not going to be able to continue in the role. It was evident based on the actions of the parents that there was little concern or compassion for us.

Staying in the role of ‘manager’ as another parent coached was the bottom of the slippery slope. The joy of coaching is making a difference in the lives of children – it is not paperwork, it is not fielding complaints and criticisms of the parents. I had agreed to stop being a coach, and I realized I was left with the part of the job I had truly failed at – dealing with the parents.

I’ve had two weeks to author my resignation and tonight I delivered it to the parents. Becky and I live in this community and expect to continue to do so. I spoke from my heart to the parents, without recrimination. I expressed my sadness and tried my best to transition to the new parent/coach. Although I hold some very strong emotions towards some of the parents, there’s little value in expressing those views. After five years of service, I thought the least I deserved was a departure from my role with a little bit of dignity. It’s hard to feel good about these kinds of events, but given the cards dealt I played them as best I could.

It’s taken me more than a month to complete this entry. It is far and away my most personal posting. I’m sure I’ll regret making it public to even as small an audience as this blog gets. I’ve learned a great deal since my departure from the coaching role. I’ve learned that some parents disagreed with the decision. I’ve learned that parents declined to participate. I’ve learned that a handful of families drove the effort. I’ve learned that e-mail status reports were sent to the other parents shortly after my meeting with the representatives of the parents. Despite my interest and stated intent in delivering the news of the coaching change to the parents – that news was delivered by others. I’m confident that the message discouraged others from approaching me on the topic.

I take no consolation in this news. I only feel manipulated and bullied. I’ve made the right decision. Life is too short to spend in the company of people who behave in this manner. There are parents who I respect for the position they took. In some respects they have paid a higher price then I have. Relationships have been broken or stressed.

It’s sad because it’s just a game. It will never be the same.

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