Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Getting back to youth sports coaching and why anyone would do it in the first place

I am, for the first time in more than two years, a youth soccer coach.

"Coach" used to be one of the ways I identified myself. Between 1999 and 2013, I coached a long string of youth t-ball/baseball and soccer teams, and also ran our local soccer club as league president for a couple of seasons.

During that time, my life was a blur of game and practice schedules, post-game snacks, making out lineups, etc. Coaches at the youth level have to coach their actual sports, of course, but they also must play the role of administrator, organizer, psychologist (to kids AND parents) and ball pumper.

Good Lord, I pumped up so many soccer balls in that decade-plus. With tiny little handheld pumps that require 5 minutes of hard exertion in order to blow up one size 4 soccer ball. How is it that we as a society are incapable of designing a soccer ball that will hold air for an entire season? Why do they all go flat? Why?

Anyway, through it all, despite the occasional hassles and inevitable calendar conflicts, I loved coaching kids. Just loved it. You build a special bond with them, and even years later when they're in high school they'll see you, wave and say, "Hi Coach!" Such a cool thing.

Then, in 2013, I had to step aside from the coaching ranks because there just weren't enough hours in the day. My then-new job at Vitamix was demanding in terms of time and travel, and I just couldn't swing regular attendance at practices and games from August through October (and then again in April and May) for another season while still surviving at work.

But now I'm back coaching my son Jack's U10 soccer team. We're well into the season and I'm excited about it. I love coming to the field and helping the kids have fun and become better soccer players. Win or lose, I love the post-game team talks. I love congratulating them on a job well done as much as I love trying to lift their spirits when things don't go so well.

Because that's why coaches do it, of course. Not because they're looking for any sort of recognition or monetary reward. You won't find either of those things at the rec soccer level anyway. It's for the equally selfish reason that it's fun. It's just fun. I get as much out of it (or more) than the kids do.

Like good teachers, good coaches stick with you for a lifetime. You remember them. You remember what they taught you. You remember catchphrases they used. You remember how happy you were when you made them proud, and you remember how crushed you were when you disappointed them.

Which is an awfully big responsibility for any coach to take on, I realize. And I don't want to be presumptuous and assume I'm making some huge difference in these kids' lives.

But even if you just teach them a little bit about responsibility, teamwork and all those gee-whiz concepts we attach to team sports because we want them to have redeeming social value, then you've done OK  both by the kids and by yourself.

And that alone is reason enough to hang a whistle around your neck and volunteer to help out. Assistant coaches are always welcome if you don't want the responsibility of being a head coach, and you don't necessarily have to understand the sport all that well. Just be willing to organize, teach and set a good example, and you're more than halfway there.

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