Last week I introduced you to Chas Sumser, the “no-cut” coach, formerly of the Loudon Vipers boys team and then the Leesburg FC Avalanche girls team. Both teams he agreed to take on at the request neighboring children who asked him to ‘please coach my team’. Perhaps Chas was just being a good neighbor. He was young, active and had a background playing soccer. Why not?
But what does this guy know about coaching kids? He doesn’t even have any of his own! So he digs in to figure it out as he goes along. By his own account, he estimates he spent 15-20 hours per week on practices, games, travel, tournaments and communications. But plenty of us hit the books to learn how to teach skills, run practices, strategize games, and develop systems. Chas is no different. He holds his National D coaching license and has attended the national soccer coaches association (NSCAA) convention a number of times.
But there’s something more to how this guy manages things than just know-how. And to accomplish it first with boys and then switch to girls is highly unusual, in my experience. “Yeah,” he tells me, “The boys responded to me calling them out. You can’t do that with girls. Single them out and they shut down.” He pauses. “You can take them aside and explain it, but not in front of everyone.”
He’s got that right. Boys and girls are a different species, coaching-wise, but how does this really look in the run of play and the heat of the moment?
Former Viper player and Avalanche Assistant Coach, Chris Giangi, shared observations from what he learned from coaching alongside Chas.
“It’s more than just knowing the ins and outs of the sport, it’s about knowing your players, too. It’s about knowing the personality of the players, when they’re up or down emotionally, and not everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves. It’s not just about teaching your players but finding the right way to teach them.”
Chas took an unusual approach to finding that right way. He invested in their lives beyond soccer. Whereas many, perhaps most, competitive coaches mandate their practices and games and discourage other extracurricular activities which conflict, Chas apparently encouraged them. Oh, he absolutely expected his players to be committed to the soccer team by regularly attending practices and playing with enthusiasm, but he realized the players’ other activities were of equal importance to them. So they were to him, too. Where other coaches might have given grudging consent to conflicting play productions, band performances, and other sport competitions, Chas and his wife Sally actually attended them!
“I loved doing that,” Chas tells me with a huge smile. At first, he says, he just would overhear players at practice talking about a band performance coming up or a play they were in and he would ask when and where it was. “Players were surprised when we actually showed up, at first, but then we started getting lots of invitations.” So they went.
What a tremendous boost it must have given those kids to know their coach cared about more than just their soccer. And I’ll bet knowing that did a LOT for their soccer.
Most of these kids, now young adults, have scattered to colleges across the country. They’ll be receiving a care package in the mail this week, courtesy of their beloved coach and his wife. Inside it they will find Scooby Snacks, Mike and Ikes and other goodies that are favorites among the Avalanche players. These will arrive wrapped in all the good memories coach and players crafted together.
It’s no wonder that so many of Chas’ players return year after year for their annual alumni soccer game over Thanksgiving break. They also maintain a very active Facebook group where Chas regularly posts throwback photos and updates. Just scrolling through the posts, photos and videos tell a tale all their own. Of scrubbed, scrawny, freckly faces mugging for the camera turned beautiful young women confidently striding into the world.
What is Chas most proud of after all those years? “They became complete, well-rounded young women, not just accomplished soccer players.”
In today’s youth sports, many coaches dedicate themselves to ‘player development.’ Chas knows he is engaged in something much larger. He’s not just developing players, he is helping to raise children. Other people’s children.
Amazing what may come from a simple yes and a little know-how placed in the hands of a coach who understands and loves kids who are a work in progress.
Now that’s neighborly.