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The Simple Joy of Being Active: Lessons Learned From Little Kids on My First Day as “Coach Pete”

Wow, my heart is beating really hard!” Those were the words that made this one of the best days that I have had in quite some time, and they were uttered by a 5 year old boy. Before I elaborate, let’s step back a bit for some background…

A few weeks ago, my wife informed me that I was going to be the coach of my 5 year-old daughter’s soccer team. I think her actual words we “we are going to be coaching her team,” but with an infant in the family who needs Mom for one of his essential needs, I knew what this statement really meant. She told me that the Recreation Department had called and said that they were desperate for coaches, and that as yet our daughter’s team had nobody to fill the role. Given that my wife and I both played soccer in high school, she volunteered, figuring that we could manage despite our lack of any form of coaching experience. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but I knew that it was time for me to give something back, especially since so many other parents have volunteered their time to coach my kids in other sports that they have played.

One of my biggest sources of apprehension was that although I played soccer for many years and know the rules well, I wasn’t sure how to translate this experience to a group of 4-5 year-olds. Thankfully, my son is also playing soccer this Fall in the next higher age group, and I was able to watch his practice earlier in the week in order to get some ideas. The other thing that I have going for me is that although I tend to be quiet and low-key around other adults, being around kids turns me into a total goofball, and I have no problem horsing around and making a fool of myself if it makes a kid laugh. When I’m with a group of kids, I can shut out all of the adults who might be watching, and truly be myself.

This morning was my team’s first practice. My philosophy was simply to get them moving and laughing, with the only real goal being that they have a lot of fun – it turned out to be far easier than I anticipated. The thing I love about kids is that they live to be active – they spent nearly the entire time running, laughing, and having a blast – it’s a lesson that many adults could learn a lot from. Kids are also so free with their emotions. They wear their joy on their faces openly, and when they are upset about something (like when someone has taken their pink ball), you can tell immediately. I had one little boy who was extremely shy, so his dad helped him out, but eventually he started to get a bit more comfortable. It made my day when he was willing to give me a high five at the end of our practice – it’s funny how such a small gesture can mean so much.

We adults expend a lot of effort in attempts to teach and guide our children, but sometimes, if you take the time to stop, watch, and listen, they can teach you lessons as well. The 45 minute practice went by in a flash, and as I gathered them together at the end I asked them if they had fun. All seemed to have had a great time, and it was at that point that one of the boys made the statement that I opened this post with. His heart was beating hard because he had played hard. In that simple statement, he taught me more than I could ever teach myself about my own exercise habits. After beating myself to a pulp last week out on the road and suffering the consequences of pushing too hard, I decided to run home from soccer practice, about 9.5 miles, and to do so at a slow pace so that I could digest the experience of being “Coach Pete.” Even more, I simply wanted to feel the joy of being outside on a beautiful day, and to experience completely the satisfaction that comes with listening to my heart beat hard because I was having fun doing something that I love.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Great job, Coach Pete. I made my Coach Brian debut Saturday… I’ve been “Coach V” for high school soccer, but this was my first time coaching U4. I had a blast. I was supposed to be the assistant coach, but I ended up pretty much running the practice. The kids loved it, and I loved them.

  2. Dan (Milan, NH) says:

    Congrats, Coach Pete! Maybe our kids will get to play against/with each other! My 4 year old daughter just started soccer at the Milan Village School. Practice is one day a week after pre-school. Hope I can make a couple of games…

  3. Great job, Coach! I’ve always felt that activities which you truly enjoy you can be 100% confident that you’re doing a great job – as it’s obvious you are.

  4. Greg Strosaker says:

    Thanks for the post Pete – my 5yo son just started soccer this past weekend and I’m feeling a bit guilty about not volunteering to at least be an assistant (I too played soccer in high-school, plus a year in college). I spend too much of my time focused on my autistic 7yo son, and this would have been a great way to be more involved with my 5yo. I will keep your post in mind for next season.

  5. Dirtdawg50k says:

    Great post. While I only played some recreation ball as a kid, I have coached other sports and when my son’s U6 team last year was in need of coach, I was gently coerced into it as well.

    Like you, the raw emotion of the kids is awesome. There is no checking of their Garmin to see how high their HR is or what their fastest pace is. Just balls out, as fast as they can go.

    Enjoyed it so much I am still coaching his team and started helping out with my daughter’s U4 team.

    Best of luck…BTW..those practices are some excellent fartlek workouts.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Too true, I’m so used to moving one direction (straight ahead), it’s
      amazing what a 45 minute kid’s soccer practice did to my legs with all
      of the stop and go and lateral movement!

      Pete

      On Sunday, September 12, 2010, Disqus

  6. Great post, Coach!! As someone who has worked with children for many years, I’m always grateful for the clarity and the sense of joy it brings!

    You didn’t mention it, but I’m sure your daughter (after possibly pretending to be indifferent, or mortified) is thrilled to have “Coach Dad.”

    • Pete Larson says:

      Actually, since she’s only five and a Daddy’s girl, she was pretty psyched
      about it – we had a lot of fun!
      Pete

  7. Michellejoy61 says:

    This post just really made me smile, Peter. Thank you for that.

    Your going to be a great Coach Pete.

  8. NICE ONE PETE!
    i think most of us adults would be a lot happier if we let the’kid inside us’ come out and play once in a while :]

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