The reluctant coach

Auskick and other kids’ clinics aside, I’ve never had the urge to spoil my enjoyment of sport by coaching or refereeing.   Those thankless tasks for extroverts and masochists…

Spectating or playing is my go, however average I am at those capers too.

Alas, three times this year I’ve had to stand in for my son (9) and daughter (8)’s soccer coach.  Notwithstanding my limited grounding in the sport and that coaching Under 9’s in anything is more an exercise in herding cats, to say Ange Postecoglou has nothing to fear is the understatement of the world game.  Mind you, having your own kids in the team puts one in a particularly invidious position, as I was to find out on Sunday.

After the obligatory warm-ups, 17 ‘leave the balls alone!’ and 26 ‘be quiet and listens’ I finally managed to get the group’s undivided attention.  Naively I attempted to impart some wisdom I stole from the ancient football philosopher Ronald Democritus Barassi.

‘If it is to be it is up to me.’

I implored them to take responsibility for committing themselves to the basics of defence, teamwork and life.  Maybe one of them will remember it some day, but I highly doubt it.

For the first time, a couple of games ago Miss 8 went goalkeeper for a good part of the match and performed admirably.  Last week the team was having a stinker, so as the over-protective last minute stand-in I decided to spare her baring the brunt of it all.

In the pre-match I gave into her pleading.  However, pitted against a team that demoralised us previously, for safety’s sake I handed the gloves to one of the boys to begin with.

Surprisingly we were 3-0 up at the half, though our defence was still flaky.  Despite Miss 8 copping a face numbing falcon requiring ice and her mother’s mothering, I gave her the nod.  The other side weren’t a patch on last time and I had to honour my promise.

Little did I know they’d enacted their own ‘rope-a-dope’, totally lulling us into a false sense of superiority.  Two large, skilled reinforcements suddenly appeared after the orange break and wreaked havoc.

Bang, bang, bang!

In a transformation to rival Caitlin Jenner, they were now running rings around us and our lead was obliterated in a thrice.

Poor Miss 8 was left isolated – the odd teammate that did get back in time to defend as useful as a Pokémon.  Mark Schwarzer wouldn’t have stopped the close range cannon balls.  I knew how she’d be feeling – it wasn’t her fault but that was irrelevant.  Do I get her out of there and wrongly convey blame or do I risk further trauma and humiliation by leaving her be?  Regardless of being the only girl afield and my own daughter braving the storm, it was a vexing question that routinely faces coaches when a struggling player needs support.

Then two of our subs began doing god knows what under my feet, making nuisances of themselves.  Not good timing boys.

‘Just friggin’ watch the game or go somewhere else’, I barked, clearly showing the stress of a hard-won lead widdled against the wall.  Thankfully no parents were within earshot of my overreaction.  Where’s a phone to slam when you need it?  Or a hole to bury one’s self?

Whether they weren’t listening or I’d communicated poorly was moot.  But my gut said they’re better than that.  I felt the frustration of every coach in the history of sport.

If it is to be it is up to them, ultimately.

I decided to show faith in Miss 8 and thankfully we got one back and some time elapsed before we gave up another.  I couldn’t tell if it was the ball in the face or her perceived loss of face that elicited tears but she wanted to stay in goal.  She’s a stubborn one.  One more minute was my compromise, as if it was past 8.30pm.

Soon after the change another defensive SNAFU resulted in an own goal and we slumped to 4-5.  I was just an annoying spectator now.

Man up!  Get back!  Defend!  Go!  Down the line!  Cross it!

Then a miracle goal from a corner kick squared the ledger before Mr 9 put us back in front.  For a moment or two I wasn’t the coach or a spectator, just a proud dad.

It was a cracker of a second half, easily the best for the season.  I had nothing to do with it, that much I know.

Miss 8 went back on and actually played a part in helping us hang on but there was confusion over the score.  Was it a draw or did we win 6-5?  It’s under 9’s and they don’t officially keep a tally but in the moment it’s terribly important, besides (not really).  I didn’t want to own a 0-3 record though.  With no post-match lollies this week most of the kids had already left before a 6-5 scoreline was determined, and the sun shone a little brighter.   I think I even had an inkling as to why coaches do it.

Miss 8 spent some time in the afternoon Youtubing soccer highlight and blooper reels.  Maybe subconsciously it served as therapy.  It was good to see her laughing again.

Come bedtime and Miss 8 still needed to debrief.  My best Robin Williams’ ‘it’s not your fault’ helped.  The external pain from the ball thwacking her in the face had also subsided.

It was a beautiful game, in the end.




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About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Peter Fuller says

    JD, As some-one who made a fair hash of managing three boys, I am full of admiration for anyone who takes on the task of coaching whether the squad is five or twenty-five. When it’s complicated by the delicate element of one’s offspring being in the team, and compounded by relative unfamiliarity with the game, your job made Hardwiick’s, Lyon’s or Hinkley’s a piece of pizza. Over the years, you have demonstrated to the Almanac community that you have noteworthy self-awareness, and this post reinforces that impression, certainly for me. Well played that coach.

  2. Well done, Jeff.
    It is a truism that a game cannot take place without an umpire – and in junior sport, especially, nor can a game take place without a coach.
    I dips my lid to anyone who puts their hand up for this often thankless task.
    And boy, I should know.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Funny stuff JD,
    At 3-0 up you park the mini buses.
    Seems like you unconsciously channeled Bucks in the second half lol

  4. Great stuff,Jeff seems like you handled the situation perfectly I am the maggot each Sat morning in school footy ( I coach more than umpire ) and give the kids nick names in general I love it

  5. Thanks Peter, you’re too kind – I don’t think U9’s futbol holds a candle to what the AFL coaches put themselves through but as you say junior sport has its own unique challenges. I can’t imagine Lyon et al also having to tie up players’ bootlaces every 5 minutes either!

    I feel for Bucks, Phil. Not sure I have the right temperament but hopefully I’ll improve. It’s not like I’ve enjoyed a 2 year apprenticeship and a year at the AIS Academy.

    Without the likes of you Smokie & Rulebook junior sport wouldn’t happen. I reckon it’s getting harder and harder to get parent involvement nowadays. No one seems to have the time, and perhaps the confidence or training.

  6. Wisdom of Solomon stuff JD. My dad coached me all through junior cricket. 12 players – 4 good; 4 handy; 4 making up the numbers (including me). You can guess who was 12th man for the Grand Final. Not that I’m harbouring a grudge. Its only 45 years and I may forgive him for his 90th birthday.
    Actually we played in different sides when I first played senior cricket. In a semi final I dropped him off a sitter when he was 30. He holed out a few overs later. Said he couldn’t bear to think of my humiliation if he made his usual big score. I guess we’re even.
    Well played JD.

  7. Hi Jeff enjoyed the article and can feel for you as someone who has coached junior sides before (about 15 years worth, from Auskick to u16s.)

    It’s hard to remain calm and not get involved in the play, especially when you’re kids are in the team. (Think of Steve Martin’s character in “Parenthood”.)

    Agree with your thoughts about getting parents involved these days. I know for many it’s difficult due to work commitments and issues. However I’ve also seen many parents who use training as a babysitting service, and always manage to make an appearance just after all of the volunteer positions have been filled, yet are willing to offer their ‘advice’ on the coaching and performance of the side from the sidelines.

    Good luck in the future and well done.

    Cheers, Steve.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Well done on putting your hand up Jeff. Coaching kids of any age is no easy task, especially at under 9 level!. Look forward to hearing a Socceroo quote that Barassi line in 15 years time!

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    As a netball coach I was a pretty good Secretary/Treasurer in my one season in 2006.

    I made sure that I rotated each girl through each position regularly. Didn’t quite manage to get every girl to score a goal, but went close. In the end I figured that I was better at organising team lists, meeting minutes, trophy presentations and making sure that we had enough $$$.

    I really admire anyone that takes on coaching kids, as long as they do it the right way.

    Good onya Jeff.

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