Everything I know about teaching I learned from West Side Soccer

Yesterday my husband attended the certification training for assistant coaches for the U8 (under eight) division of West Side Soccer League (a division of the American Youth Soccer Organization). I was a U6 referee last Fall but I’m too damn big to fit into the yellow and black striped shirt let alone waddle up and down the field, so hubby has to meet our volunteer commitments this Spring. Here is one of the jewels he brought home from the meeting:

According to the coach trainer, after last year’s World Cup games the soccerfistas from Fédération Internationale de Football Association sat down with the US Soccer Federation in order to discuss the state of US soccer. Millions of children play soccer in the United States. In fact, more kids play soccer than any other single sport, and yet we still, well, suck. At least we had the sense to ask someone smart what the problem is. You know what they said we’re doing wrong? Overcoaching! In Europe soccer begins as a street game, a pick-up game (like baseball and basketball are in the U.S.) and this requires kids to be creative and to learn fast and to play hard. Turns out that all our leagues and skills and rules and drills are introducing a lot of kids to the game but are not making us a nation of great players.
As I reach the end of another semester of teaching poetry writing workshops to undergraduate and graduate students and as I enjoy the hubbub of National Poetry Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the dangers of overcoaching and about what it might mean to make poetry a street game. I’m trying to be less directive and more demanding in my teaching, and I’m trying to think about my assignments and workshops in a new way. In the simpliest terms I want to give them more practice, more exposure, more play, more independence, more real challenges, MORE POETRY and less skills and drills and less of the “about” poetry.

Originally Published: April 24th, 2007

Poet and educator Rachel Zucker was born in New York and grew up in Greenwich Village, the daughter of novelist Benjamin Zucker and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. She earned her BA at Yale University and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.   Zucker’s expansive yet lyrical poems interrogate and deftly...

  1. April 24, 2007
     Michael Marcinkowski

    Word up!