Coach

Even my son called me “Coach” when we were on the field.  I suppose it was easier for both of us.  I could correct, teach, and praise with the roles defined and accepted. He could play, develop, and be part of the team. Player and Coach.  We were on the same team, but with clearly different responsibilities. 

I was still Dad on the way to the game and the ride home.  Talking about video games, the weekend plans, and school.

Coaching is now over for me in the sense it was for tee-ball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, basketball, lacrosse, and football.  My office at home is decorated by plaques and photos, signed by my players and fellow coaches.  With my kids moving into upper school, the rec league years are in the past. And I did not miss out of them.  I am thankful.

I began coaching tee-ball. I was at every practice, and sometimes the official coaches would not show up.  I was not a baseball player, but that isn’t what makes a coach when the players are so young. What was key was patience, guidance, and always looking for an opportunity to bring something out in the players.

And I loved it.  Initially, I would privately look down on parents who just dropped their kids off or would sit by reading the paper when I asked for volunteers.  I’m out here, I thought, with your kids.  Come help! It is easy.  But it isn’t so easy, and I am wiser and more empathetic now.  We go about tackling the challenges in our lives differently, and what I love doing isn’t the same thing for everyone.  It is a lot of work, and each parent puts in their work in the ways they can. At home, at school, at church, and at their jobs.  For this bit, they are entrusting me.

To be honest, over the years, the support of non-coaching parents has been amazing. They brought snacks, kept score, and passed out uniforms.  They spent as much time as I have shuttling their kids to every event.  

Soccer, baseball, football, wrestling, and lacrosse.  I volunteered in different capacities in all of them, learning sports I was totally unfamiliar with. You might be surprised how unnecessary actual playing experience is needed (initially) to coach. Around here, coaches are so badly needed for house leagues and recreational leagues, being able to show up is the primary requisite.  

But if you want to coach well, you’ve got to be ready to learn and adapt.  Coaching well isn’t ever about wins and losses in youth sports.  It isn’t. You don’t play the game – the kids do.  But, you have to teach, and this means you need something to teach – skills, sportsmanship, competition.  You have to want to learn the sport.  You need to learn how to teach.

As my players grew older, I became a tougher coach.  For teen-aged players, I expected work, commitment, seriousness. That was part of the lesson.  Sport, as a positive learning experience, needs to teach these principles.  So does learning an instrument or organizing a food drive.  

But, any sport is a game! Yes, a game that teaches lessons, but a game nonetheless. Games should be fun, and we had fun.  I invented so many drills, and the ones that got the kids excited were always the best. In lacrosse, I made my boys do a sumo type drill (no sticks) where they needed to push the other player out of a circle.  My goal was footwork and body position, as well as letting them get physical within the confines of the game (no tackling, no throwing).  In basketball, we’d do a keep-away game to practice stealing and ball protection.

I’m no Mr. Miagi, but these were great ways to teach alongside the hours and hours of standard drills.

Coaching my own kids was a challenge.  The separation between coach and supportive parent isn’t perfect.  It was, however, a super way to stay involved in a way I was actually quite good at.  My father was my coach in many sports, and as an adult, I can see why he loved it.  I now appreciate the time he gave and why he gave it.

For several years as a coach, I was feeling in over my head.  My time was spent with making lineups, setting up fields, cajoling volunteers, and leaving work early.  I was looking for something tangible that showed me I was making a difference, a positive impact. I attended some Positive Coaching seminars and I also watched other coaches.  There are good coaches and bad coaches, just as there are good and bad parents and players. Having a philosophy centered around positive coaching to lean on helped me sort the value from the noise. 

My conclusion was: the players.  Did they want to continue in sports or part of any team (science, theater, anything)?  Did they build bonds, discover leadership, or improve their skills?  For the vast majority of them, even those with difficult situations, the answers were YES.

A quick aside on parents: I have seen all types, from overly protective to uninterested to agressively competitive. They were not my primary concern, although they could be distracting.  The team was.  I made a point of communicating my philosophy early. Yes, we want to win. Yes, I will make them run laps. Yes, I expect supportive and positive input from the stands. Yes, losing hurts. Humiliation and degradation are not part of this philosophy.  No, I am not an Olympic level coach. Most importantly, this team belongs to people on the field/court/mat, and that includes players and coaches.  See something you want done better? Grab a whistle and a clipboard and become a coach – that’s what I did. Join.

I met many of my current friends through coaching.  My Facebook friends are mainly people I met this way.  

As I put the whistle away and think about the next thing coming around the corner, I quietly acknowledge all my coaches, especially my father (and my mom as well, who was there the whole time), for being involved, sacrificing to be there, and imparting something that I now realized was a gift in a long chain.  I hope my players will take from me what I offered and that some will become part of a future generation of coaches.

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