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Column: It's how you play the game

Last year, I was asked to coach my son's soccer team. He was in the Park and Recreation's kindergarten league and his team consisted of other kindergarten kids from the area. I gladly accepted the challenge (wink, wink), noting to the soccer organizers, however, that I knew nothing about soccer. They told me not to worry about it and that I would do fine, so I agreed to coach a team in the fall and spring seasons, which came and went without so much as a hitch.

We didn't win every game nor did we lose every game. We ended up somewhere in the middle, which was just fine by the kids. We had fun, and the kids appeared to enjoy themselves in victory and defeat.

Then along came this fall and again the soccer folks called and asked if I would coach a team. Having experienced no issues the past year I again gladly accepted the challenge. I need to admit that during the summer months between the seasons I did not brush up on my soccer acumen, which meant I showed up for the first practice knowing what I had known about the game before. And that is only that soccer consists of a round ball and a big net and the object is to get the ball into said net. (Not your own net, which, by the way we came to find out by trial and error)

Growing up, my soccer background was simply seeing it on TV and quickly turning to another channel before anyone witnessed me actually watching the sport. (Yes, I am a typical American who only watches the major sports I grew up with.) With this background, I can tell you that I do not know the rules or the strategy of soccer. I explained this dilemma to the soccer folks and again they told me that is not what is important. To help me teach the game, they did give me a video of different kinds of soccer drills. I have to say I learned a lot and it helped me a ton.

What I also learned was that first- and second-graders have very short attention spans and getting them to focus on a drill would need another drill to teach them about the first drill. (Ugh)

It leaves very little time for X's and O's.

However, I had always believed that my job wasn't about building a soccer dynasty; it was more about teaching the kids to play with class and dignity. It was about teaching them to enjoy something they choose to do and giving it their best, win, lose or draw.

Now don't get me wrong, it has been a blast. We haven't won a game and maybe a better execution of the game plan would have helped that, but what I have learned is it doesn't matter to those who are most important -- the kids.

They really don't care who wins and loses. They simply want to have fun and they want to enjoy hanging out with their friends. All you really need to do is give them a ribbon or a trophy at the end of the season and you will give a kid something they will treasure for, like, a whole week.

At this young age I suppose there are some kids who have grasped the game more than others. There are some kids who have already grown into their body and are better athletes right now than others, and the teams those kids are on tend to win more games. But I wonder if that is really what is important.

Isn't it up to us as adults/parents to keep the main goal in our sights and not get caught up with who is winning and who is losing? I realize, even for myself, that that is sometimes easier said than done and that too many times we judge success by a win total.

I have coached many different sports throughout the years and many different age groups. Something that appears to get easily lost when worrying about winning and losing is how we judge that success. If it is only about the score or the outcome have we not lost a bit of what sports are supposed to teach our kids?

Oh sure, everyone likes to win, that is the easy part. But as the years roll by I am more and more convinced that the only way to truly learn how to win is to learn how to lose first. There is no way to be gracious in defeat if you have never experienced a setback. Isn't teaching our kids at such a young age that winning trumps everything else truly missing the power of what sports can teach?

I will judge this fall soccer season a success if next spring I look around and see all 11 kids that were on my team this fall out for spring soccer again. They may be on a different team but if they are continuing to play then I will judge it a success. Maybe we as role models need to remember that you can't teach the learning lessons these types of activities can provide if the kids are not there.

And if they are not there, then maybe it is the parents and coaches who have lost.

Or, even worse, lost them.