How to train a dragon (Using crazy soccer players)

“Never laugh at live dragons.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

white dragon statue
Photo by Suraphat Nuea-on on

I was watching The Hobbit the other day; it’s a great story. Some of my favorite characters are the short gruffy dwarves. In the Hobbit, these dudes have a super plush (channeling my inner Joanna Gaines) fortress built inside a freaking mountain–not on the mountain; they actually built the whole city inside. Now, to their world’s standards, they had the “good life.” The surrounding region  was covered with quaint country villages and even larger cities. For the dwarves, things seemed right in the world.

Then the dragon shows up. 


Everyone loses their freaking mind. But don’t get me wrong, they had good reasons: Dragon’s breath does tend to be a little on the hot side, flying reptiles enjoy eating human flesh bones. (They’re really all about some epidermis, well-done, with ketchup. I never understood why they love ketchup so much. It’s just empty calories.) Dragons have an intense interest for money, jewels, and antique malls.

“I desired dragons with a profound desire.”
― C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

Eventually, these towns gather together, and the little bearded townspeople start complaining, “What are we going to do? This dragon is totally out-of-control! Look at it flying around like it owns the place! And see there, it’s eating breakfast at the Huddle House! Dragon’s ain’t supposed to eat no breakfast at the Huddle House! What next? They gonna burn down the Walmart? Somebody ought to do something!”
So, the city decides to send its strongest warrior and smartest negotiator to visit the dragon.

food plate morning breakfast
Photo by Gratisography on

After an hour or so of speaking with the dragon, it  apologizes and agrees to pay its fair share of taxes, takes on a meaningful role aiding the city counsel, and settles down in the mountains with its nice dragon family that occasionally takes advantage of unlimited pancakes at IHOP. (Dragons can consume over 5000 pounds of blueberry pancakes in one sitting. They eventually shut down the IHOP, and nobody missed it). Everyone was happy.

The end.

My first soccer team was a dragon

I had high hopes for coaching my first soccer team. The coach I had assisted before seemed to be able to keep a team in line (pun intended). He had a good sense of crowd control. When I started coaching my first team, I wanted the same.
This was not the case. That’s an understatement. Attempting to put our guys in a line was straight crazy. (Sorry, I can’t help myself with the puns tonight).
At the first practice, at about the 5 mins 23.5 seconds mark, our team finally broke free from my weak baby-like grasp. Apparently, their first practice nerves had washed away, and their  ADHD came rushing in like a mudslide off poop mountain. (You only thought it ran downhill in the dry season. A poop mudslide can leave a serious streak, and in our case, it was a dump-load of loss.)

Crowd control didn’t work

man wearing black officer uniform
Photo by Rosemary Ketchum on

I attempted to reign in their rambunctiousness, but to no avail. They were crazy. Like pre-drama actor Jim Carrey loco.  I read as many coaching books as possible. I researched all kinds of crowd control ideas and even tried a few. (Non-lethal, of course, because the rec department wouldn’t buy me riot gear. They said something about, “What would it look like using police batons and pepper spray on rowdy children?”…Which I see their point…now.) I had to admit to failing to fix the problem. Hardcore-ly.
It was a nightmare.

My team–they had become a scary dragon.

dragon fruit slices
Dragon Fruit. But, scary dragon fruit.   Photo by Madison Inouye on


The real story: The easier way

OK, so I lied. The little people didn’t work out a deal with the dragon. In reality, the dragon just ate them. Well, to be fair, he didn’t eat all the snack-sized warriors. He also burned hundreds of them with his super spicy breathe. I didn’t fully lie earlier; the people really did lose their freaking mind. Many of them, their bodies as well.
The dragon from the Hobbit was useless to those around him. No one could tame him. He wanted their gold, and he would do whatever he needed to get it.
(Spoiler) They eventually kill the fire-breather. Which I find heartbreaking. Could you imagine what you could do with a dragon if said animal was on your side of a fight. I’m not saying to tame a dragon but to befriend one and have him help you succeed in your conquests.

“Dragons and legends…It would have been difficult for any man not to want to fight beside a dragon.”
― Patricia Briggs, Dragon Blood

Imagine this for a moment. What if we could insert a dragon into other famous movies? How awesome would Saving Private Ryan be if the U.S. Army had used a Dragon on D-day? How about the movie Braveheart, with a dragon? Or my favorite, Taken, but with Liam Neeson riding on a fire-blasting monster. “I will find you, and I will unleash my flying flame serpent on you!”

To prove my point further, imagine the following movies with a dragon:

See, it’s an irrefutable concept. Dragons make great movie characters. Period.
Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to tame my dragons. Fighting against them would only cause me to be burned. I had one real choice if I wanted my coaching career to survive. I had to befriend the dragon.
A great way to make friends is to give the other party what they desire. If the dwarves had just given their gold to the dragon who knows, he might have fought for them in their future conquests for more gold. Too bad.

As a coach, I wanted to win games and have fun. As players, they wanted to win games and have fun. We, technically, wanted the same thing. Except their idea of fun didn’t fit the accepted norms for most parents, coaches, or drill sergeants. My guys wanted to act a fool. They liked running around in circles screaming like monkeys. They enjoyed playing tag, showing off, and making fart sounds. Once I realized this, I gave the dragon (my team) what it wanted most, fun. (We still did drills, fundamentals, and lectures, but I tried to be fun over all of our other priorities).

I befriended a dragon that season, and because I did this, I was able to bring the beast with me to our battles and decimate our competitors. It was almost cheating. My dragon was happy, I was happy, the parents were happy, and our competitors were burned. After I chose to give our players what they wanted, they were more than willing to go out and beat our enemies. They fought with purpose, and I didn’t have to fight against them.

This is my challenge for you.

Would you rather:

Slay Dragons

This ultimately destroys them and their natural capabilities. We may feel like we’ve accomplished a lot by killing a dragon, but its abilities to fly, throw flame balls, and heavy shielding are way more useful alive.

Tame them

This takes away their natural aggression or their “fire.” If you wish to tame something, get a house cat. If you want to pillage villages and destroy castles, you’ll need a dragon that hasn’t been “fixed.”

Befriend them

We need them on our side. It’s not smart to fight a dragon when you could have one doing your bidding. Happy dragons consume their enemies. Give them what they want, and you’ll roast your rivals.

Be The Fun Coach That Wins!

Share this post with your friends because if it helps my mission of inspiring coaches not to lose their mind on the side-line and end up on the news then I’ve done my job. Thanks for reading my article!

Nate Ballew


Father of four boys, married to a hot wife. A coaching enthusiast, comedian, and author of fart jokes dressed as books.

Facebook: Recreational Soccer Survival (The first step to recovery is to like this page.)

Twitter: @coach_ballew (Follow me and we’ll do the “tweeter”).