I’m a junior football coach. Much like thousands of parents up and down the country. And millions more around the world.
It’s a fun job. And maddening. And rewarding. And challenging.
It’s taught me a lot about myself. A lot.
This is the second year I’ve taken a side – the 9th Grade Matamata Swifts Eagles (we love birds out our way) – and I now feel like I have half an idea of what I’m doing. Last year… well, not so much.
You see, I’d spent years running our local Mini-Kickers programme for 4 to 7 year olds (I still do, but that’s another post entirely), and that basically involves reading a Whole of Football Plan drill off a piece of paper and having a laugh with the kids.
I’ve coached a few senior teams in the past and pretty much figured it would be a piece of cake with the Eagles.
In 2015 the Eagles were, by and large, a group of 8th Grade kids playing a year up. They’d made the jump from tiny Mini-Kickers fields to something much larger. They were lost in all that space and I wasn’t really much help to them. At least to start with. But the kids got better over the course of a challenging season and so did I.
Move forward to 2016 and the team’s a year older and now playing against kids their own age. They’re confident and I think I’m finally of some use to them. They can also handle training exercises that are a little more complicated than Terminator or Ghost Busters and it seems to be flowing through to their performances on Saturday.
We played a decent side from Hamilton Marist this morning and what was most pleasing was that some of the things the team has been asked to do on a Wednesday evening came out under pressure in a match situation. We played out wide from the back; our centre-half moved into midfield to create an overload (and even got forward to score a hat trick); our midfield looked to play the ball early; we got forward with pace.
Our general game awareness is improving too. The players are making better choices about when to make runs forward; they’re playing more high percentage passes; hell, one of the players even committed a professional foul out wide near the end of the game to help us secure a result (sorry NZF, I know it’s not really supposed to be about winning and losing but, well, you know… it actually is).
We did all of this against a side that knew what they were doing. After last season, it was difficult to gauge the level of the Waikato 9th Grade. We did a lot of defending against teams that were bigger, older and stronger. Now we’re on the same level physically it’s good to see that technically the players are a good match for the sides we’re playing.
Sure, we dominated a couple of teams during grading and, quite frankly, that’s when our performances got a bit messy as the players started just going it alone. Now we’re playing good teams, we’ve responded well. It is just so cool to see the players improve and improve and improve.
For the record, we won 4-3 today and next week we have a re-match against a team that beat us 5-2 during grading. I’m quite excited to see what happens there.