Column: In life, there is a time to coach and a time to encourage


PUNGO — I have an 11 year old who loves soccer. She wants to be Megan Rapinoe or Alex Morgan. I want her to build confidence and learn the virtues of focus and tenacity. 

She had two games this past weekend. On Saturday, the temperature pushed toward 90. While our kids were on the pitch, the lion’s share of sideline conversation seemed to relate to heat. How much could the girls tolerate? Did the humidity affect their playing? Would they melt? Nobody melted. 

Sunday morning felt balmy in comparison. I popped open my portable chair and settled a bottle of water into the armrest. I didn’t recognize my neighbors. I eavesdropped while the teams warmed up.

To my right, a dad chatted with some ladies nearby. To my left, a grandmother arrived late because she’d been trying to find the right field. That struggle is real. The ref blew the whistle. Off our girls went.

The field was filled with strong, skilled, passionate and fearless young people. They passed, stole the ball, blocked. They were fast, aggressive and inspiring. Every single one of them.

So I was surprised at the biting commentary shouted by adults on the sidelines. 

“What are you doing girls?” 

“Wake up!” 

With sarcasm: “Watch the ball. Yep, glad you’re watching the ball.” 

One person accused our girls of “playing dirty.”

Another seemed intent upon belittling one of the girls, likely his daughter. 

She seemed like a good player who, perhaps, wasn’t having her best game.

It was still a good effort. Yet when she scored a goal in the second half, she got this comment as a reward: “Game’s still going.” 

Later, I felt compelled to text my girl’s coaches, whose skills I admire, and thank them for not being jerks on the field. One of the coaches responded. He simply noted that he’s been in the sport long enough to learn to coach the kids at practice and encourage them during the games. 

His response stayed with me. 

What is the purpose of youth sports, anyway? Why not just have practice after practice after practice and coach the kids ceaselessly until they obey rather than play? 

Considering the coach’s message, I think the mission of youth sports is to give our kids the space to take responsibility for themselves and make their own split-second decisions among others doing the same. 

In a safe environment, they learn the ramifications of their decisions, as well as those of their teammates and opponents. They make mistakes, and then they develop their character by shouldering the responsibility of those choices. Maybe they make a better choice. Maybe they learn to pass when they want nothing more than to shoot.

Sitting on the sidelines, it can be easy to spot everything others do wrong, especially the young people we know so well. 

I am not an athlete, so it is not so hard for me to withhold judgement on those young Amazons on the field. Maybe it is harder for those who see the game from a different lens, one colored by their own experience.

Back at home, though — and more in my comfort zone — I started to notice when I was the one sitting on the sidelines, judging all the mistakes and criticizing rather than supporting. Why didn’t you put your backpack together before you went to bed? Why are you being so mean to your sister? 

To an outsider, would I come off as the sober-minded coach-parent I long to be, or would I sound like a bully?

This weekend reminded me that I don’t want to sound like some jerk on the sidelines. I hope I can coach at the practice and encourage during the game.

Cortney Morse Doucette is a marketing manager for a technology firm. She lives with her family in Pungo.

© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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