A high school soccer coach for 40 years, Dan Woog recorded his experiences in notes. Using those notes as his source material, Dan wrote his most recent book entitled “We Kick Balls”. While ostensively a book about soccer, the book is really about kids growing up. Dan noted that although the book was well received by a number of publishers, they either thought it commanded too small an audience, or was too close in time to a soccer book written by Mia Hamm to publish. Consequently, Dan published the book himself noting that one advantage that gave him was full artistic control over its content, title and cover illustration.
The book recalls stories that illustrate some aspect of the growing up process. Many of these stories came about in the various travels that Dan’s soccer teams participated in. He recalled the time when the team was in Germany for a tournament and took a side trip to Austria. As part of that experience they exchanged their German Marks for Austrian Schillings. Due to the exchange rate, one team member expressed delight that he had received 10,000 schillings for 100 marks. He felt his wealth had multiplied. Dan tried to explain to him that it was merely a function of the exchange rate, but he would have none of it. Subsequently, he felt cheated when, on the return trip, he received a lessor number of marks for his shillings.
Dan emphasized that his style is to leave kids alone to solve encountered problems themselves to the greatest extent possible. While on a trip to Denmark, the team had a central gathering point and a curfew. One young man on an excursion with some friends missed a trolley that would take him back to the gathering point within the permitted time. The boy knew no Danish so asking directions or reading signs was not possible, He solved his problem by running back in time to beat a curfew. He accomplished this by figuring out that he had to follow the trolley tracks. Through other problem solving experiences, Dan feels that the team members realize that they need smart players and not just the best athletes.
Dan’s stories of growing up included tragic situations as well as happier ones. He recalled a year in which a team member committed suicide, but noted that his teammates later played soccer at the cemetery where he is buried as a way of remembering. The boy’s former teammates also leave offerings at his grave site to this day although his death was more than 25 years ago. There also was a year in which 3 to 4 fathers of teammates died. The year ended with that team losing the state final. The boys were sobbing but walked from one end of the field to the other with their arms around each other in mutual support.
Dan noted that soccer is not a coach’s game. There are no diagramed plays, or plays sent in from the sidelines. The players control the game. It helps them learn to depend and trust one another and give support when and where needed. It helps, like most high school sports, to build camaraderie; a camaraderie that extended to Dan when he came out as a gay man and received the support of his players and through them their parents.
Q. Should heading be removed from soccer in light of the concussion risks?
A. Heading is part of the game, which would be very different without it. But concussions are a problem and I don’t know what will ultimately happen.
Q. How many lives have you touched with soccer and how many went on to more sporting activities after high school?
A. I don’t have numbers, but Westport kids usually go on to productive lives. We encourage multi-sports activities, but mostly I want kids to follow their passions and to learn a love of the game.
Q. What is the future of soccer in the U.S.?
A. The future is good and in many ways it is now. There are a lot of people playing soccer. There is a lot of support for the U.S. team and many people are now knowledgeable about soccer.
Q. Have you noticed a difference between generations?
A. I wouldn’t want to be a kid now. They are under tremendous pressure. But, for the most part, they navigate it well. They are more open and less cynical. Their written communication skills have lapsed a bit, but the future is good.
Q. Why do sports announcers have to constantly talk?
A. It’s the American way.