You're sitting at a long stoplight, minding your own business, and you notice a flock of small children standing around, listening, or more likely not listening, to a parent/coach yapping and then separating them into long lines.
Don't just wheel past and get on with your life. Do something. Pull into the parking lot, get out of your car and tell the parent to go see Free State High soccer coach Jason Pendleton about enrolling in one of his coaching clinics.
For a $30 fee paid to the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America), parents can learn the basics of coaching soccer. Just as important, they can learn how not to coach. The next "Parent as Coach" clinic, this one for those interested in coaching boys and girls ages 5 to 8, will be at 10 a.m. April 28 at Free State.
For an idea of how not to coach children, read "The Junction Boys" by Jim Dent. Among the greatest sports books ever written, it details the rigors of Bear Bryant's first training camp as football coach of Texas A&M in 1954. Bryant's whole idea of dehydrating the players in a scorching dust bowl was to run off all but the strongest survivors and to reverse a losing culture. On the first day, Bryant broke a player's nose with a head-butt. Before long, players were escaping in the middle of the night to take a bus out of Junction.
Bryant's first team won one game. His third won the Southwest Conference. As Niccolo Machiavelli might tell you if he hadn't died in the 16th century, the brutal training camp was a smashing success.
Too often, coaches of youth sports imitate the successful professional and college coaches in every way, replete with hollering and exerting excessive control over the athletes.
The opposite approach is the desirable one for novice soccer coaches eager to instruct first-time players. Pendleton, who has been known to bring a sarcastic edge to the classroom and the soccer field at times, gets that. If he were to select a theme song for his clinic, Carlos Santana's "Let the Children Play" would be an apt choice.
If the Three Rs form the key to learning in the classroom, the Three Ls are the key to coaching children.
"No laps, no lines, no lectures," Pendleton said. "If you're 5, you're not that excited to be in a line. In soccer, there is such a high demand on foot skills, above all, so players need to be able to touch the ball with their feet as much as possible. If they are running laps, standing in lines and listening to lectures, that diminishes their opportunity to be interacting with the ball, learning how to manipulate the ball with their feet."
Yelling and screaming is OK at soccer practice for novices, Pendleton said, as long as it's the children yelling and screaming in a fun way.
"Creating an organized environment is involved," he said. "The key is do not stifle creativity and do not be overly critical, especially with young players. Corrections should be made in a positive way, so they want to keep playing. ... If things seem chaotic, that's OK, as long as the objective of kids learning to dribble the ball is taking place. It's important the coaches understand that success can be achieved, even though it may not fit into the calm, structured adult world. You're a facilitator, as opposed to a controller."
Let the children play. Ellos tienen que jugar.