Youth Coaching Chronicles: Bouncing Back
My U11 Girls team was 30–0–1 spanning back from the fall season into a few games of the spring season. We had four gold medals from tournaments, we had outscored our opponents by a lot and the girls were riding high. Personally, I was waiting for the fall from grace, because I could really start to coach at that point.
First off, a little disclosure, we were placed in a division that we shouldn’t have been, and we rolled through there with the closest game being 4–1 and a few being 7 or 8 to zero after passing around for the last ten to fifteen minutes of the game. We were way too athletic to be in the division we were in, but that was out of my control and not my decision. We had to play the schedule in front of us, and we tried to mix in some soccer with the athleticism they were blessed with at such a young age.
However, I knew it would happen eventually, and I was ready for it when it did. Our reputation preceded us in a tournament and we were placed in a higher age group. While we held our own, the other girls were just more physical, better technically and refused to lose to a U11 team. I don’t blame them, and it’s remarkable the difference a year makes at this age. However, after those three defeats, the confidence of my team was shaken, and it was on me as their coach to get it back.
We had played four games in the higher division prior to this tournament, while one was a closely contested match, we were able to squeak it out by pure determination and the refusal to lose. Two of the others were comfortable wins, but the last one was a draw to a team that was not as athletic or as good as us, but were more aggressive and hungry for the win. We lucked out on that draw as I feel the other team missed a couple golden opportunities, and we did not play well at all. Complacency had set in, and the girls needed a wake up call. The draw was the first step, but the beating we took over the next three games at the tournament was a rude awakening.
After the tournament, the girls were focused on getting back to work and training. They had seen what the other teams had produced, but it didn’t sink in that we HAD to get better, we HAD to bounce back or we will get run out of our of league. These teams are good, and while we had won some of the games at the beginning of the season, the real test was approaching as the best team in the league was hosting us. No need to rehash the game, but we lost in the last fifteen seconds to a comedy of errors on our end and a generous toe poke over my keepers head. The girls were down. They had now gone without a win in five games, and while winning isn’t everything, it weighs heavy on your shoulders after being so dominant. They start to wonder about their own ability and if they belong.
We had another game the next day, to which my entire focus was for the girls to find their confidence. Dig deep down and realize that you will not win every game, you may never win another game, but we need to play better and show we belong in this league. The heavy focus was not on what we HAD done previously, but what we had LEARNED from all of the games previously. I refuse to speak of the “streak”, as the parents call it, with them. I know it is a skewed number because we were playing in a lower division. While winning all of those games was fun for them, did they really learn anything? Were they ever tested? Truthfully, that answer is no. All they learned were bad habits and becoming complacent, which can destroy a young players future before they ever get to there. Shame on me for allowing that to happen, but I’m learning to be a coach as well. They went out in that game and played some of the best soccer they ever have as a unit. While I’d love to take credit for it, it’s not mine to have. It falls all on them; 100%.
Their run was remarkable, and they earned those wins, but I look at it through a different lens. They learned more from the shellacking they took at the tournament and the heart breaking final second loss than they ever did by winning 30 games. Truthfully, they learned more about themselves and how to bounce back after a loss. They learned how to be mentally tough when things aren’t going your way. They learned that it is okay to lose as long as you are learning. They learned to lean on each other in times of struggle. Those are valuable life lessons that need to be learned at some point, and I’m proud they learned them this early in life.
Sometimes it’s hard to expect your team to bounce back after being blown out of the water and embarrassed, but the honest truth is that every player needs it at some point in their career or even more so in their life. My girls had to learn this recently and very quickly, and they are better players because of it.