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Camp Letter From Coach Taylor

The week with the Hawthorn Woods Elite Camp in Holton, Michigan was an inspiring and affirming experience for me. Thank you so much for allowing me to observe and coach. 

As Coach Tom would gather the troops at the state of the high school facility or on the wooded fields, he’d demonstrate the various soccer skills and passing patterns, imparting soccer knowledge, I had flashbacks to my own youth practices. I’d remember his maxims: about dreaming big, putting equal effort into practice and games, and being a selfless, encouraging teammate. 

Camp is more than just a week of soccer training with a sprinkling of life advice; it is a week of life training using soccer as the subject.

The week consisted of three a day trainings, each morning session had a different tactical focus, the afternoon session was focused on skills and individual moves, and the evening session allowed players to play and get creative. 

What consistently impressed me was the complete experience that Camp provides: team building, recreational activity, appreciation for nature, galvanizing an entire community of people through the love of one sport. 

Players learn accountability through schedules, lists, cabin duties. Creativity is fostered through scavenging for Coach Tom’s “hidden surprise” and through cultivating hidden talents. I loved seeing kids shy on the soccer field shine on “stage” of the talent show. 

It has been a long time since I have been apart of something so fun and exhilarating as the relay race- 12 different tasks involving soccer balls, basketballs, canoes, swimming, three legged racing, and freaking seran wrap. Shout out to Team Yellow taking the silver- woop woop! 

Nestled in the perfect wooded area of Michigan, the weather was the perfect combination of damp and humid the first few days, keeping focus high, and ended on beautiful sun. The kids worked hard all week, rain or shine. 

The club really came together; I loved seeing the older girls encouraging the younger boys and girls. As an AP English teacher for the last five years, I’m very rarely around 8-11 year olds. Their personalities, candor and energy (WOW!) cracked me up. God bless you parents. 

Speaking of, something interesting to me I was the only adult at the camp that was not a parent which afforded me the unique privilege of observing and soaking in the interactions of all those around me. It amazed me how kids so young already have such rich personalities, and evident dispositions- I could already tell who was an inclusive teammate or who left others out, who was kind or cutting, who had resolve and who cowered or feared failure, who respected authority or whose first inclination was to balk at it. 

I know I don’t need to remind anyone that just like “we are what we eat,” kids are what they hear, and what is spoken to them will undoubtedly find it’s way out.

And if you’d allow me, I’d like to digress away from camp. 

As a player, I was my own worst critic. I knew when I didn’t play well; I knew when I could have given more. I saw this same attitude with the twenty kids who lined up for “accountability sprints” in turn owning up to when they bounced the ball when Coach Tom was talking or not following directions.

I have never learned from “harsh criticsm” from Coach Tom or my parents and I’ve never grown as a player from a coach expressing disappointment or frustration in my personal performance, in fact it only instilled fear and anxiety. Expressing disappointment in team effort’s, yes, but a majority of individual conversations with coaches were only uplifting and constructive, and that left a lasting impact. What I remember is my coaches’ and my parents continued encouragement, praise when I felt like I least deserved it, and an unrelenting and consistent belief that I was good, great, enough. I knew these things because I heard them-from coaches, teammates, parents. Everyone encouraged me, so I felt encouraged. 

From when I started playing soccer at age four in Russia up until my time as co-captain my senior year at Baylor University, the time I’m least proud of my mentality and attitude was my freshmen year of college, when I was a wreck from when I wasn’t playing, let alone starting. Why? Because I’d never really been the player on the bench, I didn’t understand the humility, courage, and critical component that it means to be a player on the sidelines, setting aside my own pride for the sake of others. I truly wish I would have experienced this-what some view as “failure”-sooner in my career. Let us fail. If your child is starting every minute, or rarely playing, believe in them. Love them. Everyone single player is important. 

I suppose, if you’d humbly let me encourage this, ask your player some reflective questions: How are their teammates talking to them? How are they talking to their teammates? And most importantly, how are they talking to themselves? How do they feel when playing in small groups? Large groups? How do they handle stress and frustration? Do they approach school and soccer differently? Are they putting in enough work? Too much? Watching and studying the game? Balance is an incredibly slippery thing to teach. 

After attending my first college camp (something I highly encourage all players to do-fantastic learning experience, especially schools you’re interested in being recruited from) the Clemson University soccer coach told me I’d never play Division 1 soccer. After crying the first few hours of the drive back, my mom and I started laughing, because she believed in me, Coach Tom believed in me, and so in turn, I believed in me.

On the last day at camp, I opened up Facebook, and on that day, 12 years prior, our club team won the Midwest Regionals sending us to Nationals and in turn changing the trajectory of my life forever. Receiving a full ride scholarship to a Division 1 University was a dream come true- a dream I had since I was the age of many the players I had the blessing of coaching during camp. I have Coach Tom to thank. 

And as I walked out of the Nurse’s cabin, and I heard distant kids’ voices laughing, could see them running and smiling, I wondered whose life will change because of these moments? Who will be the next Alex Morgan? Crystal Dunn? Christian Pulusic? Landon Donovan?

The building begins now. 

Thank you again for the special opportunity. Until next year, Coach Taylor 

 

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