Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Coach

At 3:00 am this morning I received the following email:

I've wanted to stop playing soccer. It's just not fun anymore. You even told me once that it is a game and we play it to have fun. I don't feel any motivation in myself to go and kick a ball by myself anymore, and I hate my training sessions. If I do stop then all my work i have put in would be a waste. Soccer is also the only I'm doing here aside from school. My parents don't know that I still feel this way because I want to get somebody else's opinion before I tell them exactly how I feel. The other reason I haven't said anything is because this has happened about a month ago too. 

 I need some advice on what to do.


Long in the Mouth, Short on the Cleats (My addition as editor)

I sent this former player the following response, and thought it worthy of sharing.  All specific references have been removed for privacy,

Dear Friend;

Thank you for honoring me with your request.  I could get into the strength of character required to ask another's advice, or that I too am facing decisions that will alter the course of my life; but that is not what you are seeking.

In your request I see personal growth and maturity, but I also see a telltale characteristic of a quality.  This character trait is deference to your elders, your parents, your past; and how you might choose your own path without dishonoring the efforts of those who brought you to where you are.  The fact that you are even hesitating to act is not a lack of confidence or indecision, it is a fear of not honoring others.  This is an amazing personal trait for anyone, let alone a young man in the middle of yet another life fluxing move to yet another new city.  So . . .

You are right, I did say, "If you aren't having fun, you should put down the cleats and find something that does make you happy."  And hating the training sessions can be motivation enough to walk away from the game.  Understand that any efforts you have put into becoming the player you are today will not be lost if you walk away, you have worked as an individual and as a member of a team, you have overcome obstacles individually and as a team.  You have had to work with new people on short notice and better still, you have had to work with people you don't even like to accomplish common goals.  Those skills will serve you well for the remainder of your life.

But let's look at what you are missing from your soccer life at this moment; friends, a coach who makes the work of the game fun, and the constant interaction with Dad (For good or ill)  You were always a team player, you never felt that you could lift the team on your shoulders and carry them through thick and thin, you reveled in doing the best you could with the roles you knew.  When I came along and challenged you to another role, you were scared and wary, but you threw yourself into the learning and the work, and it worked out well for both of us.  But you also had the constant ribbing and interaction with a group of players who you had played with for years, they both challenged you and encouraged you in the manner of peer pressures that only school aged boys can.  

There is nothing I can do for your coach/trainer, they will have developed their own style, mannerisms and favorites long before you arrived and so cracking inside that shell will be difficult.  But the constant interaction of parent to child is not to be underestimated, nor over-played;  your parents love you for who you are, not what you have done or will do, but just because you are who you are.  This is something you should never lose sight of; they are an invaluable resource of ideas, encouragement and support.  And so they will ultimately respect you and your decision.

Moving at your age is something I had to do, and it was awful, while the game of soccer was available, I never truly embraced it until after I was in college; the joys of childhood football in England were never equaled in the US until I was invited as a young man to ply my talents on the pitch by my peers who saw more in my than I did in myself at the time. But I digress.  

My suggestions: tell you parents (ask them to hear, not judge, and not to try and fix things today), consider sticking around the game by doing the refereeing clinics and earning a little pocket change, and seek out the activities that do make your heart jump for joy - music, academics, reading, writing, art, bowling, running, for all I know bird-watching.  And then seek out others with similar passions, then find those who are non-judgmental and open to sharing the same joys; these will be the friends of a lifetime

It won't be easy, in fact it will be one of the hardest things you have had to do in a hard life; but the rewards will be a life filled with joy and filled with the pursuit of your happiness.

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