What I miss about high school coaching

“How does the team look?”

In my 19 years as head coach of the Staples High School boys varsity, that’s the question I was asked most often. Soccer is a big deal in Westport, Connecticut. Everyone – teachers, alumni, parents of alums, friends, random strangers – wants to know the latest on the Wreckers. (They also want to suggest lineup changes or training tweaks, but that’s another story.)

This fall, the question is different: “How does it feel not to coach?”

I stepped down after last season, for a variety of reasons. We had a team I felt particularly close to, and which made a great run all the way to the state semifinal. (We lost 1-0 despite leading in shots, 19-2. That’s another story too.) My assistant coach, Russell Oost-Lievense, is young, smart and talented; he was ready to take over, and kick the program up several notches. And after 19 years at the helm, and over 50 years with the program (including playing at Staples, then serving as assistant), I did not want to turn into “that guy” whom everyone is trying to gently (or not so gently) move along. 

So for the first time since the Johnson administration (except college), I am spending the fall without a team to play on or coach. It’s different, for sure. There are many things I miss – and many I don’t.
For example, I miss the day-to-day interactions with the players. I learned so much about them and their lives in casual conversations as they arrived for training, got their cleats on and stretched. I saw them every day in the cafeteria, and as they wandered into my office to chat. Spending so much time around teenagers kept me on my toes (and young), and gave me great hope for the future.

I do not miss texts from the trainer in the middle of those conversations, telling me that a key player came to her with an injury, and will be out until further notice. I do not miss, either, hearing some of things players said, which filled me with great fear for the future.

I miss getting texts from players, asking questions great and small, or just checking in. I do not miss getting emails from parents about issues great and small that should be handled by their kids. I especially don’t miss getting emails from parents who pretend they’re being sent by their sons. (How stupid did they think I am?)

I miss the anticipation of a great training session, and the satisfied feeling afterward when it seems the entire team took a giant leap forward. I do not miss the frustration, even anger, when a training session goes off the rails, and it seems like the entire season will implode.

I miss the task of reporting victories to our state high school association. I do not miss reporting penalty cards – or filling out endless forms about concussions, COVID, and whether or not the rules should be changed to allow stripes on socks.

I miss the fun of asking the rising seniors to pick out the next year’s uniforms. I do not miss washing training vests after a session in the rain. (I definitely don’t miss sessions in the rain, snow, blazing heat or freezing cold.)

I miss the pre-game banter with opposing coaches and referees. I do not miss worrying about the pre-game music playlist, guarding against offensive words or phrases that sometimes blast out of the speakers. (I also do not miss listening to players’ excuses about how it happened, or why “it’s not really that bad.”)

I miss the quiet anticipation of bus rides to away matches, and the raucous rides home after a victory. I will even miss the misery of riding home after a season-ending state tournament defeat, thanking the seniors and trying to inspire the returnees. I do not miss worrying about late buses, slow drivers, or the occasional comments I should not hear.

I miss the post-game chats with news reporters covering our matches. I was always grateful for the publicity. I do not miss having to sidestep questions about a questionable call or bad goal. I also do not miss inaccurate reporting. (Were we really watching the same game?!)

I very much miss the competitive aspect of a high school season. There is nothing like the shared satisfaction of a huge victory. Even though there is nothing like the lonely agony of a bad loss, bouncing back from it is incredibly rewarding. I will not miss the hours spent second-guessing myself, in every area of coaching: tactics, personnel, how I handled a question or comment from a player, parent, opposing coach, referee or my athletic director.

I miss all the sideline action – the stuff no one in the stands sees or hears. I do not miss watching every home game with the sun directly in my eyes. (One bonus of watching from our hill, or the stands: I get a much better view of the game than I did from ground level.)

I miss those questions I heard all the time: “How does the team look?” But I sure don’t miss the comments that begin, “Have you ever thought about …?”

Sure, there are plenty of things I miss, now that I am no longer the Staples High School boys varsity coach. But there’s something new I am now proud of: I’m the Wreckers’ No. 1 fan.

Photos by Christian Abraham & Barry Guiduli.

18 comments about "What I miss about high school coaching".
  1. cony konstin, September 20, 2022 at 1:31 p.m.

    Great story. We do it because we love it. 

  2. Kerry Solomon, September 20, 2022 at 2:34 p.m.

    Super story.  Reminds me of my 20 year coaching a U-19 team in Western PA.  Fond memories.
    thanks Coach.  Im sure you touched a lot of lives and those people appreciate everything you did.  Kudos

  3. Perry McIntyre, September 20, 2022 at 3:03 p.m.

    Spot on Woogie. I miss so many of the same things, but so much of coaching has changed in the past 25 years, it's OK. The "...ships" sail on forever  -- "championships" and "relationships."

  4. Perry McIntyre, September 20, 2022 at 3:06 p.m.

    Spot on Woogie. I too miss so many of the same things, but HS coaching has changed so much in the past 25 years, it's OK. The "...ships" will sail on -- "championships" and "relationships."

  5. Wooden Ships, September 20, 2022 at 3:23 p.m.

    Congrats Coach and thanks for the reflection. Sounds very similar to coaching at the university level. Miss the day to day, but not the grind. And, it sounds like you're the number 1 fan, because you've been the constant. The emeritus! 

  6. James Madison, September 20, 2022 at 3:23 p.m.

    If he were to stop writing about soccer, I would miss Dan Woog

  7. Wooden Ships replied, September 20, 2022 at 4:03 p.m.

    Agreed James.

  8. Dan Donovan, September 20, 2022 at 4:06 p.m.

    Here's the thing about Dan. He wasn't a coach. He was a manager, a mentor, an organizer, a motivator, an educator. He was a psychologist, a sounding board, and a focalpoint for decades of alumni. He was a torchbearer for all things Staples soccer, a fundraiser, a friend, a confidant and a leader. He was a chaufer, a groundskeeper, a writer and a supporter of all the good things about the beautiful game in our small corner of it here in Westport, CT. 

  9. peter mellor, September 20, 2022 at 4:25 p.m.

    Dan.....Spot on a very true reflection of how it really is both sides of the equation!...Thank you for sharing

  10. Craig Cummings, September 20, 2022 at 9:55 p.m.

    I do miss coaching HS soccer after 8 years, but I still love to ref HS soccer.  Not much money but  I  still love it.  Even here in So Cal not much paid to Ref HS  games.  We are the lowest paid REFS in all HS  sports..

  11. humble 1, September 21, 2022 at 3:55 p.m.

    Great little peice Mr. Woog.  Comments too.  Thank you all.  While back I debated having my kiid play HS soccer, seems club was the way to go.  HS, I read, was a waste of time.  Some comments I overheard or read by Juar Carlos Osario, then HC of Mexico's national team, about the special nature of HS sports in the USA and how he felt, when soccer could leverage that context, the USA would become a true soccer nation, swung me in favor of HS for the young man.  The kid is well into it now and having a blast.  I compare my son to an elementary mate of his who went on to the local MLS team academy where they, not long ago, required all their HS age players to switch to a home school system, in a sort-of poor-mans residential academy setup.  That academy has a history of producing, not pros, rather, college players.  I felt bad for the kid.  My son is admitedly playing too many games, for club and HS, but his HS coach is a legend.  He's been all over the city playing meaningful games making lasting friendships and having a blast.  His HS coaches will, in the end, be the teachers he spent the most time with of all his HS teachers.  They are a big influece on him and a good influence.  My player will follow HS soccer with college soccer.  HS soccer did not kill college.  He even has a pathway, if he chooses to pro, but, that's another story.  Maybe his elementary mate has a pro career, maybe he goes on to college.  For sure, he will have missed the chance to play HS soccer.     

  12. humble 1 replied, September 21, 2022 at 3:56 p.m.

    Sorry, Jaun Carlos Osorio.  Excuse me.

  13. Dan Woog, September 21, 2022 at 7:06 p.m.

    Thanks, Humble 1, for that very thoughtful comment. Your son is lucky indeed that his father thought through the academy issue -- a very complex one.

    At Staples High School, we once had 12 academy players walking the halls, not playing for us -- a full starting 11, plus 1. (We are in an area of Connecticut close to New York -- and some players even traveled well over an hour to New Jersey, several times a week.) One or two of them were legit academy players; that was the right choice for them. The others lost an opportunity to play with their longtime friends, representing their school and community, competing in matches that truly meant something, in real pressure situations. They would have had a chance to become leaders - and they'd have had their weekends (and social lives) free.

    One academy player in our town is now a goalkeeper at Clemson. Academy was definitely the right move for him. 

    Every year, we had one or two seniors play high school soccer, after the academy. They had smiles on their faces, and joy in their hearts. But the others always faced resistance (primarily from parents, and occasionally coaches of colleges) they'd already committed to, even when they wanted to play as seniors for us.

    I've always thought that a true academy system would include only MLS clubs -- and that they should be full residential academies. That would serve the real top players (and eliminate the pay-to-play mentality that is part of too many non-MLS academy clubs). 

    That's just my view. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express it. And thanks again for allowing your son to have an experience he'll never forget.

  14. humble 1 replied, September 22, 2022 at 3:14 p.m.

    All good.  We are thankful for the opportunities our player has, the choices he has as well.  The system is disfunctional in many aspects, it's dynamic also, so here today gone tomorrow, like DA and maybe soon too MLS Next.  It's packed full of good people, people who know the game here and abroad and both.  When we have the good fortune to find quality individuals, we do our best to keep them close for as long as possible so the player can learn.  The game, not perfect, dynamic as it should be, and growing, still, keeps giving, not through apps, or web portals, or video, or AI, or fancy slogans, or elite contexts, rather, always person-to-player, through folks like yourself, and, we are thankful.  All the best, Thanks again!  

  15. Mike Lynch, September 21, 2022 at 11:23 p.m.

    Thanks Dan for sharing. Always enjoy reading about your experiences and insights. As you shared, high school is not for all, but it can be a life changing experience for most. I'm encouraged High School soccer will continue to hold a valuable place in the US Soccer player development landscape, especially where the metric is also formation, well being, character, etc. 

  16. Wilson Cartagena, September 22, 2022 at midnight

    WOW!!!YEP ,it brings back memories of the great close  camaraderie that it was built every year the kids came back for the new season ....and speaking about the new season I really miss 3x per day pre - season training starting at 7 am. Ending at 6 pm.obviously with breaks in between in order to make up insufficient amount of preparing the team for the season.Really I still miss it being on the field experiencing happiness, frustration, don't like being retired .I still work at 78 teaching youngsters at a very popular club to keep me busy . I just love the sport .!!! Great article .

  17. Joseph Pratt, September 22, 2022 at 9:15 p.m.

    Great stuff! For those of you who haven't read it, especially fellow coaches, be sure to read Dan's very enjoyable book: "We Kick Balls: True Stories from the Youth Soccer Wars."

  18. humble 1 replied, September 23, 2022 at 12:49 p.m.

    Thank you for the book tip. Not a coach, but, ordered it today.  Some of the best soccer books I've read have come from recomendations here.  Thank you. 

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