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Game still a kick for MPH’s Ridall

Manlius Pebble Hill boys soccer coach Don Ridall can’t run with the young dogs anymore.

At nearly 58 he’s still spry enough to want to flash the moves that made him an accomplished player at Baldwinsville then SUNY Cortland a generation ago. But an Achilles tendon injury suffered playing recreational volleyball last year has him down-shifting a gear.

He chafes at the constraints of common sense in practice, however, bouncing along the sidelines and weaving in and out of the action. Yes, he’s clearly the boss, but the camaraderie and quip-trading with his players makes him seem more like a big brother than a Xs and Os taskmaster.

“I absolutely love my job. I’m usually at practice an hour ahead of time, planning it out, getting it set up,” Ridall said. “I try to be positive. I have a great sense of humor. The kids relate to that. You want them to absorb what you are saying, but you can’t give them overload.”

So parcel by parcel, Ridall hands out fun-wrapped pearls of coaching knowledge, enough to keep everyone happy for more than three decades. Entering his 36th straight season of coaching the sport at MPH, Ridall is one win shy of 500 for his career. That’s a total that includes six Section III and two state titles .

Ridall recently slowed down long enough to review that landmark and some of his observations along the way:

The meaning of 500 wins:

 “I’ve been around a long time. There’s no doubt about it. I think the kids are kind of excited about it.

 One of the captains said, ‘What are we going to do for your 500th win?’ I said, ‘Get ready for 501.’”

How he’s changed through the years:

 “I’ve become a better communicator with the kids. As a young coach, you’re not sure how to react with the kids. I think I’ve learned to be more patient. They are not going to all get it right away. The ones who want to learn will listen.

 I’ve definitely mellowed through the years. It’s a players game. The kids need to adjust (in games). As I started coaching, I did learn that. I’ve always said, if I think I know everything, it’s time to get out.”

Soccer players, then vs. now:

 “Back in the 70s, we did not have year-round players. You had three-sport athletes that did everything. The kids today are more sophisticated, more wordly.

 I think it’s harder to snowball them. Kids today are more questioning. They want to know why I think it (an idea) is a good thing. As a coach, you should have an answer. Sometimes, it’s because ‘I said so.’

 I enjoy coaching these kids as much as I did the kids back then. It’s a better game now. You can implement more strategy.”

His greatest coaching accomplishment:

 “I think the thing I’m proudest of is to be able to work and mold the kids. And I’ve had the opportunity to coach my son (Patrick). That’s a neat thing. But all these guys are like my son. It’s a big family to me.”

His coaching philosophy:

 “You keep score. You’re trying to win. I also try to instill in the kids that there’s more to it than winning. Sometimes it’s hard to be a more gracious winner than graceful loser.

 Win and lose with class. There’s been games where we could pick the score. I don’t allow my kids to do that. You don’t want to be embarrassed, you don’t want to embarrass another school.”

The toughest part of coaching:

 “At the varsity level, not every kid plays in every game. That’s the way of the world. Losses are hard, but you get over them and move to the next game.

 Those kids, when they do get a chance, and do well, it’s so exciting. I’m as thrilled for them as anybody.”

Why teaching phys ed can be as rewarding as coaching:

 “You’re working with everybody. At the younger age, the kids are so enthusiastic. They love it. They are like sponges. I tell the parents, if it’s not their favorite class of the day, there’s something wrong.

 The goal is you are going to continue it (exercise) the rest of your life. That’s what I want to teach.”

How long he’ll keep coaching:

 “It’s fun to look down and see different kids who can play for you (down the road), your ballboys of today. I am still having fun. As long as I’m having fun and I feel I can give the kids a quality effort, I’m going to stick with it.”