• Coach Skeff

Would you still play if everyone had told you not to play?!

Updated: May 14, 2019

Every coach knows the feeling of losing a game. Every coach knows what it feels to have a bad game. Every coach knows the feeling of getting destroyed in the field. Every coach knows the feeling of seeing your team having the worst performance.

In that morning, I had it all. My girls were not only losing the game, but they were also having their worst performance. It is okay when a couple of players have a bad game, but is a nightmare when the whole team seems not to click. It was one of these games where I deeply second-guessed my ability to coach or impact players. There were so many mistakes. Physical, technical, tactical, emotional, spiritual… I didn't even know where to start or what to say. Their lack of desire to play was embarrassing and painful to watch.

For some reason, I always assume that kids will go to the field and they will love playing and work as hard as they can.

As a youth soccer coach, I wish my only concern was on team shape, body shape, and motivating players to excel. It bothers me that I have to motivate kids just to be players and/or motivate kids to enjoy the game. Sometimes I feel I need to keep the game funny, sparkly, and shinny, like a new case on their Iphone(y) then the game will still be attractive enough. I understand at some point in a players’ career they will overtrain and they will need those type of motivations, but it is hard for me to believe a kid would need that type of motivation.

I did not grow up ever having felt that way.

In Brazil where I am from, girls who played soccer had to overcome many obstacles. As I mentioned before in my post “I wished I was a boy,soccer was the most important thing in my life and there is nothing that could separate me from the soccer ball, although I had plenty of reasons not to play. In other previous post, I talked about Rafaelle’s storywhich highlights everything she went through to be able to play soccer. What about Sissi?One of the best players women’s soccer has ever seen, had to play with doll’s head to be able to keep playing after her parents forbidden her to play. Here I am now, in New England, one of the most privileged areas in one of the most privileged countries in the world.

The game was over. The score? A LOT vs. zero.

I mean, A lot vs. zero desire, zero passion, zero love for soccer, zero fire in these girls’ eyes, zero determination… That was the score in my head. For those who have watched or seen me coaching, they know that I do not focus on the score. I am more interested in the development of the team and team’s progression. That morning though, there was no progression and there was no game. My team did not show up.

I closed my eyes and I started to repeat my mantra, “Do not forget they are kids, do not forget they are kids, do not forget they are kids.” Twelve and thirteen years old to be more accurate. That was my U13 soccer team from Boston, United States. I repeated: do not forget they are kids. Walking towards my soccer bag... my head was spinning. I tried to push my emotions deep down in my heart and remind myself that every game MUST have a learning point.

“Would you still play if everyone had told you not to play?!”

The girls were sitting down. Some of them looked at me and others were looking at the floor. I repeated my question to the girls: Would you still play if everyone had told you not play?! I got all of their attention. I continued: Would you still play if your parents, your friends, your family had told you should not play?

One of my players answered: No.

“Maybe that is the problem…”, I have to keep reminding myself they are only 12. However, I am not talking about their physical and mental maturity. I am talking about exposures. I am talking about experiences. As a 12-year-old girl, born and raised in New England, the majority of these girls have not been exposed to the world yet.

“Today... you did NOT deserve to play soccer”

The girls’ eyes went back to the ground. I continued, “today you did not deserve this perfect turf field and your nice colorful cleats. You did not deserve the Nike uniform you are wearing and the nice Nike soccer ball you used during the game. You did not deserve this team or your parents’ support. Today, you did not deserve to play at all."

I did not necessarily sound angry, but I definitely sounded direct and serious. They knew we had a bad game, I do not need to stand in front of them to tell them that. Players know when they do something wrong or when they fail, usually, they do not know why or how to fix it. This time though, I don’t think that they were aware of how disappointed I was, “Where I come from, girls do not have any of these things…”.

I paused for a second.

I was not sure how far I should go in this conversation. At the same time, how many people in their lives are able to provide this information for them. This conversation is part of who I am and how I learned everything I know as a coach, an educator, a mentor, and an instructor. I felt I needed to tell them about my past.

“Where I am from, when girls decide to play soccer they don’t have a field on which they can play, they don’t have nice uniforms, they don’t have cleats or a nice soccer ball. Additionally to the lack of material and structure, usually, every single person in the girl’s life would tell her not to play.

In Brazil, it is very rare to have a girls’ team because you cannot find enough girls to make ONE team in a city. Soccer is still a men’s game, and young girls do not receive the support and the structure my american girls have. When I was young, I dreamed of playing in the United States. I wished I could come here and play in the “Disney tournament”. In that age, I did not even think about the nice soccer balls or nice colorful cleats, but I dreamed about the number of girls that I saw playing and the tournaments the girls were able to play. I just wanted to play so bad.

If I tell you that I was not able to play a tournament until I was 15!?

I continued my speech, “Where I come from, girls don't have any of the things you have, and still... they play with more desire and passion than all of you did this morning." I looked at them, wondering if they can even picture what I was saying. Could they? I continued, "So yes. Today you didn't deserve to come here and play.” I got emotional and almost started crying. Talking about my past is never easy, especially in front of the people I care the most: my players.

I tried again to give them a picture of my past, “I have played with girls who only had soccer in their lives. I have played with girls who did not have teeth in their mouths, and a lot of times could not go to training because they could not afford the ticket for the bus. All of these players played with more desire and passion than you did this morning”.

I was an exception in Brazil. Different than many of the players I played with, I was born in a middle-class white family. I was aware of my privileged life. I could see in front of me. Even after I got older while I was playing for the U20 National team, I was one of the three players that were attending classes at an University. The other two players were Rafaelle, who I mentioned before, and Leah, an American girl whose parents were born in Brazil. I wanted to tell my young players how lucky they are and how they should never take all they have for granted. I told them:

“I have seen girls playing for nothing and WITH NOTHING, and they played with more passion and love than you did.. And this is hard for me to accept.”

Foto: Mário Quadros

Silence… Who knows if they are listening. After-game speech it is always complicated. Players are tired and distracted. I do not know if they actually heard anything I said. However, I needed to say it anyway. It is about time that someone would say that to them. A lot of people would get defensive with this argument, but I do not know if they should. Telling that you have everything to succeed and the only thing you need is desire should not be offensive. Why is it so hard to someone to hear that someone else in the world do not have half of what you have and they still play with more passion? These girls needed to know they have MORE than they need to play.

I finished the conversation telling them that as their coach, I would try my hardest to make sure they know how lucky they are and how much they need to appreciate what they have. We were about to play another game that day. The next game was supposed to be just as hard as the first one. I told the girls, “You cannot grow as a player if you don't have the desire to play. So in the next game, I hope I can see more of that. I hope I can see a group of girls ready to play the sport you told me that you love.” Eye to eye moment, they were with me. My voice tone started shifting to a more motivational speech. I smiled and said like I always do after a game:

“What could we have done better?”.

We talked about desire and aggressive mentality, and also talked about some team shape problems. I finished the speech thanking them for the feedback. We laughed. We hugged. We cheered. I felt it was a great speech...

However, not everybody agreed. I couldn't believe what I happened after this.

More to come on part 2...

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