Love the journey
By Greg Bach
Yael Averbuch has a message that all young athletes, parents and coaches need to hear and embrace: Love the journey.
Averbuch, a midfielder for FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League who has competed for the U.S. Women’s National Team, began her trip to the game’s highest levels as a 7-year-old playing for the Orange Bullets in Montclair, N.J.
It was there that she played for coaches who cared about kids, who made learning fun – and who impacted her life.
“Players can feel your passion for what you are doing as a leader and a coach and it doesn’t matter how much you know about the game or not,” says Averbuch, who won two national championships playing for North Carolina, set an NCAA record with 105 consecutive starts and had her No. 17 jersey retired by the Tar Heels. “Volunteer coaches need to be passionate and fun-loving and that rubs off on players more than anything. That’s the thing I remember about my coaches – during water breaks if they were messing around with the soccer ball and trying different things with it I remember thinking ‘that looks really fun, I’ve got to do that.’ Or if they were excited to be out there I was excited to be out there.”
When coaches dial up the excitement and energy levels young players are going to respond enthusiastically.
“The worst thing is to come out and you’re excited as a kid and the coach looks miserable and doesn’t want to be there,” Averbuch says. “Volunteer coaches really just need to share that joy of being active and learning a sport together, even if they admit to the players that they are learning it with them that’s fine.”
REVVING UP PRACTICE PRODUCTIVITY
“I think if you’re able as a coach to develop some type of competitive structure where everyone feels like they have a chance and can engage in the competition at whatever level they are – from a beginning player to the most elite player on the team – I think that’s where you make it really fun,” she says.
And when coaches insert themselves into the practices by challenging players and competing with them, it revs up the excitement as kids love the chance to out-perform their coach.
“I remember I would always look forward to going to my team’s practices because I knew it was going to be really competitive and our coach would play with us,” Averbuch recalled. “And I always wanted to beat him and take the ball from him.”
CONNECTING WITH KIDS
Averbuch works with young players across the country. She knows the impact coaches can have on a youngster’s life.
And she relishes opportunities to give back to others in the early stages of their athletic careers.
“A big thing that I try to kind of relay in every event I do and every time I talk to youth players is that I try to put the responsibility in their hands and kind of empower them to take control for whatever they want soccer to be for them,” Averbuch says. “Whether if that’s just that they want to play for fun, or if they really want to take their game to the highest level.”
It’s an effective approach that helps youngsters embrace the process – and enjoy the journey.
“If they feel like that’s their responsibility and they’re in control somewhat I think that becomes enjoyable and empowering to them,” she says. “I always tell them that I’ll show them a ton of ideas that they can do with the ball but they don’t need me, and they don’t need their coach, to do these things. As players they have the control to go out and work on their own and develop into whatever they envision for themselves. You can make yourself as good as you want to be and that’s fun.”
Coaches at all levels have the power to impact lives, and Averbuch’s time in Chapel Hill playing for legendary North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance had a significant influence on her.
“He really does genuinely care about every single player who plays for him as a person even more than as a soccer player,” Averbuch says. “He’s a very classy person and his goal is to leave every player with an experience that will make them their absolute best on the field and give them the tools to succeed in life. And I really felt that I left UNC with a really good concept of how to be a leader in life, how to go after something that’s important to you and also where soccer really fits in the perspective of the world. It’s important but it’s not everything – there are a lot of things that come before it.”
THE POWER OF PARENTS
Averbuch’s parents were high-level long distance runners, so from an early age she learned the value of training the right way, as well as the power of physical activity.
“The older I get the more I realize how influential they were,” she says. “I remember waking up to go to school and both my parents would have done their workout for the day already, showered and were eating breakfast already, so in my mind it was just a normal part of life that every day you did some sort of physical activity or chipped away at something that was important to you or you were passionate about.”
LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP
Averbuch had an opportunity to be a captain at North Carolina, a huge responsibility. But one that provided valuable life lessons, too.
“I think the biggest thing I learned was that being a leader really is about serving other people and it’s not just delegating and demanding of other people but being a wonderful example,” she says. “For me, it was about the puzzle of creating a great team environment and a team culture that I felt proud of, that was enjoyable and that was also successful.”
For more information visit her website; and follow her on Twitter @Yael_Averbuch
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