My friend lost a player to childhood cancer this week.
Just hearing the news alone sent shivers down my spine and forced me to take a critical look at the work I have done so far as a youth coach. Ever since I started coaching as a schoolboy, I have always been aware that I have a unique opportunity to make positive impacts on the youngsters I work with. There are not many roles where you can directly make and see the differences you make, and especially on young children through your dedication, your passion, your love for them and for their developments, We often get judged on how successful of a coach we are through our players' technical success, but how many times do we take a step back and appreciate the fact that our players are not just better footballers but also better people simply because we have their best interests in mind?
My personal mission, all along, has been "making a difference in children's lives through soccer". This isn't some blanket statement to make my CV look good. This is what I truly believe in and live for. The nature of my education forces me to move around every nine months or so, therefore I only spend a limited period of time working with certain groups of players. I try to make the most of this time knowing that neither my players nor I will be around forever, and that I will do everything to make as much of a difference as I can so that when I no longer have the same group of kids, I can look back and proudly say "I did something worthwhile".
Barely anyone, if there is even any, is involved in youth sports and coaching to make money. We're in this to help our players be the best they can be, on and off the pitch. Every time a kid comes up to give me a hug or a high five, that's all I can ask in return for the hours I've put into the job. When you spend six months coaching a few kids, see them again a year and a half later and their faces brighten up seeing you and they enjoy spending time with and being around you, you know you are doing something right. This is the real reward of the job that no money, league titles and personal accolades can trump.
When we're no longer there, our players move on, or God forbids, when tragedies strike, we want to be able to say that there are children who have become better people because we as coaches believed in them, believed in their ability and wanted nothing but the best for all of them.
So please, go out and make a difference while you have the chance to.
The title of this blog might have made readers go, "huh?" and I don't blame them! I've talked about how I became a football coach but not really about why. It is a deeply personal story to me and I haven't really discussed it in details other than with a couple of friends. To put it simply, part of the reason why I became a football coach is because I am compensating for a lost part of my childhood: I grew up not playing sports, didn't have a dad to take me to sports and never had a role model like a coach to look up to.
I grew up with my mum and grandparents. When I was 6, my father went on his own path. Mum was working 9 to 6, while my grandparents had their hands full taking care of me full time (I was a needy kid!) and were of old ages already. My small family did their absolute brilliant best to bring me up and make me the person I am today, but there was a major part that I didn't realize was always missing. I had no male role model who I could share stories with, seek advice from or just in general talk to and have some fun with. My grandpa was the best grandpa anyone could ask for, but in that capacity I just couldn't interact with him in the ways my players do with me. So when I started out coaching, I realised that this was my chance to compensate for that missing part of my childhood by being in the other shoes! I try my hardest to portray myself as a role model, but at the same time personal and approachable to my players. Every kid who has confided their trust in me, talked to me about things outside of football and shared stories with me made me feel extremely proud. I know that they know they have someone who they can trust and that someone has their best interest in mind.
Recently I spent a couple days with a few boys I used to coach for six months all the way back in Vietnam. The way the boys interacted with me over those few days was the best reward I could have asked for in return for the way I have approached coaching. They treated me like their big brother, played games with me and I went with one to a half-day sports tournament. I felt so proud that in six short months I was able to make such a positive impression on them, and I take tremendous pride in being a part of them growing up and playing sports, something that no one did for me when I was a boy.
Having not had a male figure and role mode or coach throughout my boyhood, I believe this is by far the most important part of my job, to be that person young players can look up to, confide trust in and interact with in an interpersonal way on and off the pitch. And I wouldn't trade my job for the world.
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.