Husband & Wife Articles


A Father’s Covenant

15 promises from a soccer coach to his kids

By John Keating

To my children Jack (8), Dublin (6), Finn (4) and Savannah (1) –

I have been coaching for a long time now and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in youth sports. As you may know, I played soccer for some years, and now make my living by coaching. I’ve learned a lot about adults and children through coaching, and even more about how adults treat their children when it comes to soccer.

Some of it is not so great and some of it is exactly how it should be done. I haven’t encouraged you to play soccer yet and probably won’t, but there is a fair chance that you will ask to play sometime starting soon and I’ll let you (but you can’t get cleats until you've played at least a year or more). At such time I will become a “soccer dad,” and I’ll have to follow the same rules that I ask other soccer parents to follow. To hold myself accountable, I’m going to make promises so that you (and your mother) can let me know if I’m doing okay as a soccer dad.

Keating Family

1. Before we ever get involved with “organized” soccer, I promise to play lots of soccer with you in the back yard.

2. I promise that we will play more pick-up games in the backyard (like I used to with my two brothers) than you’ll ever play on a formal team.

3. I promise to spend time watching your coach in action before I let you play for him or her. I’ll be watching to see if he kicks the ice bucket when he loses or smiles regardless of the score, yells at his players through the game or offers quiet but clear help from the sidelines, challenges you with real soccer situations in practice or sticks you in lines and runs drills for hours, makes you do cold stretches and run laps at the beginning of practice or creates excitement and energy with his first activity at practice, makes you sit and listen to long speeches after games or insists that you go and have pizza, arranges practices and scrimmages on Sundays or tries to keep that day free.

4. I promise that we will never skip a family holiday for a soccer game, come back early from our summer vacation so that you can attend tryouts, or miss the opportunity to see relatives over Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays because of a tournament.

5. I promise that if it is more fun playing on the F team than on the A team that you will play on the F team and trust me when I tell you that I’ll know which team suits you best.

6. I promise that I will never lose sleep or get anxious over soccer, call other parents to discuss the coach, arrange meetings with the coach to discuss your “development” (this isn't your spiritual, emotional or academic education we’re talking about; it’s a game), or spend time writing long emails to the coach about you or the team.

7. I promise not to be that unhappy parent who makes the other parents on the sideline equally unhappy.

8. I promise to skip many of your games, and in doing so show you that my life does not revolve around your ability to kick a little round object filled with air around a grass field. In fact, I’ll spend many of your practices and games hanging out with your mama, who arrived on the scene before you guys, or I’ll use the time to get some exercise myself.

9. I promise to watch many of your games, especially those that you ask me to attend.

10. I promise I’ll never make a choice between paying for family needs and soccer. The former will always get paid first.

11. I promise that I will ground you from soccer for a month if I ever hear you say “practice was boring,” “this player on my team stinks,” “I’m better than this player,” or “I deserve to be on that team.” This is the greatest game ever invented for boys! If you need to be on an A team, need to have an overpaid coach train you, need to receive constant cheerleading to feel motivated, or just have to be with certain friends to enjoy this beautiful game, you don’t get it.

12. I promise that if you turn out to be a pretty good player, and start getting recruiting calls from other coaches and parents, that I will treat the calls the way you’ve heard me treat telemarketers: “Thank you. I'm not interested. Please put me on your do-not-call list. Have a nice day.”

13. I promise that if I arrive at a soccer meeting and realize that your coach hasn’t been invited and that parents are there to talk about him behind his back that I will voice my disapproval at this tactic and leave immediately.

14. I promise you that you will play on a team where you will play most of the game. Again, that may be the F team. Soccer is meant to be played, not watched from the bench.

15. I promise you that if you treat this game well, and use the gifts you are given with humility that the game will repay you for a lifetime. And I will try my best to leave it in your hands. I’ve already had my time to play.

John Keating is married to Toni and is the father of four children under age 10. Formerly a pro soccer player in South Africa, he is currently the Men's Head Coach at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.