There comes a time in many parents’ lives when they are called upon to take on the challenge… of coaching their child’s peewee soccer team.
My entry into this scene happened much like the others: when the other parents took a big step back, I was the dummy who stayed where he was.
And so began my year of the clipboard and the whistle; a year that I shared with another dad whose zen “what-will-will-will-be” style of coaching fit perfectly with mine. Together, we’ve coached these 9 and 10 year olds as close to victory as possible in a league that doesn’t count points. We drilled, shuffled and strategized. But more importantly, we instilled in our players life lessons that would serve them anywhere; more specifically, the virtues of double knot shoes.
But to take my team to the next level, I knew I needed the sound advice of a coach who had already succeeded at the highest level.
And so, I reached out to Kim Wudi, head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire women’s volleyball team.
On November 20, 2021, Kim and the team won the NCAA Division III National Championship for the first time in college history.
I’ve watched footage of that endpoint at least a dozen times: I’ve listened to the excitement ripple through the stands, followed by a few hits, comebacks, a bump, a spike, and a crash. a volleyball directly into the hands of their opponents. , who can’t keep him in play. Barely the point was over when the young players collapsed onto the pitch, soon joined by their teammates from the bench, all shaking with cathartic joy at the end of a magical season .
In the background – beyond the confetti cannon and the pile of dogs – Kim and her assistant trainers gathered in a tight circle, their arms wrapped around the shoulders beside them.
“How was it,” I ask Kim, “that moment of victory?”
“The mountain top at the end is exciting,” Kim acknowledges as we chat outside the dorms on campus, “but when the confetti was falling, I was just thinking about all those growing moments for each person.”
Moments of growth that Kim had nurtured for years.
“It’s such a privilege to help these women transition from high school to college and see the skills they’ve learned show up on the pitch.”
A growth that is all the more gentle given the obstacles encountered.
When COVID-19 hit, sports at all levels came to a screeching halt. The problem, Kim explains, was not just the loss of games and practices, but the lost opportunity to use the sport as a vehicle to teach life skills.
“Volleyball teaches so many people skills,” Kim says. “But when we lost the game, we had to find new ways to teach communication and conflict resolution and all the things that you learn organically through sport.”
In 2021, when low COVID numbers allowed volleyball to resume, the Blugolds rebounded like never before.
“We won a national championship the year after our COVID year,” says Kim. “It wasn’t by chance. It was how we trained. We were so happy to be back. It felt like everything was in good shape again.
When the team returned to the field, they refused to take a single day for granted. As it was unclear when COVID might interrupt their season again, they used the uncertainty as a reminder to stay present.
“We told our players, ‘Be where your feet are, stay in the moment, take it one day at a time,'” Kim said.
They also took it one game at a time, winning the last 16 games of the season before reaching the championship.
Kim’s training experience is rooted in her family. “You name the sport, someone in my family probably coached it,” she laughs. She tries to carry that family dynamic into her teams, solidifying bonds with her players that extend far beyond the final point of the season.
“We go through the ups and downs together. And we’re there for each other in good times and bad, for weddings and funerals.
I share with her some stories from my own training experiences, namely the ups and downs of shoelace and my struggle to remember everyone’s name.
“Do you have any advice for a coach in my position? I ask.
“Give up on the outcome,” Kim said without wasting time.
“Fifty percent of the teams will win and 50% will lose,” she explains. “You just want to put yourself in a situation where your percentage is a bit higher. It is always “the process rather than the result”. Our goal isn’t just to win, she said, it’s to remind our players of what we’ve been working on in training and to execute what they’ve learned to the best of their abilities.
“We talk a lot about micro-changes leading to macro-results,” Kim says. “And be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The combination of which often leads to growth.
Hours after winning the national championship, Kim glanced at her phone to see that she had exhausted nearly all forms of communication. His texts had reached their limit, as had his social messages. His inbox was also overflowing.
Well wishes came from everyone – friends, family, former players and even opposing coaches.
“I always say to the team, ‘You never know who you’re impacting, but people are watching. And that when we’re on the pitch, you’re representing yourself, your family, your university and the community. of Clear Water.
As a peewee soccer coach, my players and I have a little less scrutiny. Still, whether anyone is watching or not, I like to think my fellow coach and I teach more than how to kick and chase a ball; that in the midst of all these exercises, scrums and strategies, our players deepen their understanding of compromise, teamwork and fair play.
I’ll admit it: when I first picked up the clipboard and the whistle, I thought I’d signed on for a season of glorified babysitting. What I got, instead, was the chance to watch young children grow into the people they will eventually become. I’ve seen them shake off their losses, celebrate their wins, and shrug their shoulders when no one remembers the score.
In a month, no one will remember any of the scores.
But I hope they remember our little family: our ups and downs, our loose laces and our occasional ability to get the ball into the back of the net.
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