Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Why I coach(?)

with 8 comments

My youth sports coaching career, in its present form, began with my oldest son’s second-grade basketball team; today he just finished seventh grade. In between I have coached three of my kids’ teams, in basketball, softball and baseball. I’m planning to coach my youngest daughter’s T-ball team when plays next summer.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’m going to make it.

You’ll notice that I titled this entry Why I Coach (?) instead of Why I Coach.  That’s because, today, I am writing from the perspective of a youth sports coach whose “career” has hit a bit of a trough.

I am managing my 7-year-old son’s coach-and-kid-pitch-no-score baseball team this year, following a year in which I managed his T-ball team. There are seasons when you as a person and a coach click with all the personalities, kids and parents. Last year was one of those years. This year is not. At least a couple of times I’ve had parents complain to me about, me.

Their complaints, which generally revolve around my loudness (my voice naturally projects, aided by past theater training), and my chattiness (I’m naturally talkative, aided by present copious Starbucks americano consumption).

[youtubevid id=”uejh-bHa4To”]

Here’s a song dedicated by the baseball parents to the loud, chatty jerk-off who coaches their kids.

Not that unusual, really. It happens to every youth coach, even if you’re a combination of Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and John Wooden. This past basketball season, I had a mom (whose father was my assistant coach) berate me with every curse word ever invented in front of a crowd departing from a game because I sat her son on the bench (to rest!). (She had previously rushed the bench only to be restrained by her father.) I know I’m loud and chatty, and while I compliment and encourage kids, I also — and this is a radical idea for a coach — also try to teach and correct. However, I understand how I can come off sounding a little unhinged, even if, unlike one my oldest son’s past baseball assistants, I’m not swearing up a storm and screeching away in my car with a hand on the wheel and another flipping the bird. (A shame he flipped out. My son liked that coach.)

Even when the mother attracted a stunned audience ripping me by the parking lot of the gym, eventually we found a common ground and settled things. I feel like, right now, I’m not able to connect like that. Maybe it’s the parents. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s both sides.

I’m not sure why, but I feel far less patient in dealing with people coming up to me and telling me I’m a horse’s ass who is ruining their children’s love of [insert sport here].

Maybe it’s years of dealing with petty complaints, whether about me, another parent, another kid, or why we’re playing on a certain field at a certain time. Maybe it’s the years of racing from work to a field or court, squeezing planning in on the train. Maybe it’s all the meetings I’ve sat through. Maybe it’s all the time being responsible not only for coaching, but making sure someone is bringing the treats and passing out the picture information. Maybe it’s because my own job has gotten more pressurized in the last year (not that I’m complaining, considering the alternative), leaving me less energy to deal with other people’s kids and their parents. What worries me is the nagging feeling I AM doing something wrong. I know I can be pretty dumb, but for some reason this season I’m feeling especially not smart.

At some point every season, I go through a period of wondering whether I should ever coach again. Guiding a bunch of kids you don’t know, who may or may not be interested in a sport, and trying to make them learn while have fun at the same time while you have a zillion other responsibilities can be an emotional drag, even if the parents are supportive (and mostly in my coaching career, they have been).

It’s a feeling that’s become more acute, and it makes me wonder whether I should leave my youngest daughter to someone more enthused and less asshole-ish than myself. Certainly, me not coaching might be easier on my family, which won’t have to worry about the time consumed by me coaching, and which can sit and watch a game and not see people whispering because they don’t want the other Cooks to know what they’re saying about ol’ Loud Dad over there.

However, when I get down like that, something happens that makes me realize the psychic rewards of coaching, the kind of rewards you can’t get doing anything else.

I go to the local library, and the mother of one of my old softball players tells me she wishes her daughter still had me for a coach. I get a phone call from a fellow basketball coach (one who, by the way, has far more basketball chops than I’ll ever have), asking me to give him a seal of approval to the star player’s mother, who is upset I’m didn’t draw her son that year. I go to my kids’ schools, and boys and girls who have played basketball under me run up and say, “Hi, coach!” I look up in my office at a drawing of me, wearing a “Coach” shirt and my weekend stubble, my now 10-year-old daughter did when I led her softball team. It’s titled “My Dad Is My Hero.”

Me, posing in 2008 for my daughter’s pencil drawing.

For that matter, there is the moment when my 7-year-old, perhaps blissfully unaware of any animus toward me, tells me how much he loves having me as a coach. And then there was last night, when I asked my 4-year-old daughter, while I was bathing her, if she wanted me to coach her in T-ball. She said, enthusiastically, and loudly, “YES!”

I remember how I was near tears when my son’s fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit to win a league title. I remember how I was near tears when my daughter’s fifth- and sixth-grade basketball hit a last-minute shot to win their only game of the season. I remember how I was near tears when, on my son’s basketball team, the team’s best player led the charge to congratulate a kid who, midseason, hit his first-ever shot in a competitive game.

OK, maybe I DO get a little intense. But the point is, coaching these teams makes you FEEL something. And you get to feel it not just with a bunch of kids you didn’t know, but grew to enjoy, but also with your own child. And when you’re still hearing the echoes of the mom who thinks you’re too hard on her boy, you start remembering that stuff, and remembering how much you love to share those intense moments with you children.

So, despite a present feeling that maybe my coaching career SHOULD be over, when next year’s T-ball season starts, you’ll probably find me on a field somewhere in Oak Lawn, Ill., with a bunch of 5-year-old girls, their parents staring me down, wondering if that loud, chatty guy is the right coach to mold their little careers. And you’ll find my 5-year-old daughter. I hope at that moment, on the field, she’ll be as proud of having her dad as coach as she was in the bathtub last night.

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Written by rkcookjr

June 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm

8 Responses

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  1. I dson’tr agree with all your positions. But I must say this: There are coaches annd critics and the rare fringe supporters that eschew being a critic. From my perspective: Hurray for the coaches (almost all of them). Fuck the critics (especially the shirkers). If you’re gonna coach, you have to have thick skin to endure these trolls. I have seen leagues atrophy for lack of coaches. It’s tragic. I coached very little cuz I am not meant for it. But I sure as hell appreciated the men and women who did and thanked and supported them every time I could. For some reason, I really like keeping score in Little League. Go figure! If you want a reason to coach, try this one on: People who can think appreciate your contribution. It’s a great give-back to the community and to the future. And some of us are immeasurably grateful cuz our little pride anf joys benefited from your generosity.

    leonkelly

    June 4, 2010 at 11:34 pm

  2. I coached my daughter’s school volleyball team for four years, from 5th grade through 8th. Even with various work achievements like a book, patents, and technical papers, that time coaching is something that I regard as one of my biggest achievements. Watching my daughter and the other girls grow has been amazing. It’s rewarding seeing how these kids, who will be starting their senior year in high school, have grown and matured. While most of them didn’t do volleyball or track (I also coached track for a year) in high school, a few have, and it’s great to know that I was a part of their ongoing athletic career. Years after coaching them, the girls still say “hi.” When works gets me down, I sometimes look at the volleyball that they signed and their messages of thanks, and that will often cheer me up.

    Coaching can be a big time commitment, but one thing you may consider is having a “Team Mom/Dad” who can take care of things like making sure that there are snacks after games, rides for the kids on away games, providing gifts for the coaches after the season :-), and other administrative type tasks. We do that at my sons’ school, and that delegation can save you a lot of time and effort. It usually is recommended that the Team Mom/Dad NOT be the spouse of the coach, since the coach’s family is already making sacrifices.
    Right now, I’m coaching both my sons’ (6th and 8th grade) volleyball and basketball teams.

    One can accumulate many regrets in life, but coaching my daughter and my sons will make sure that I will never regret not spending time with my kids and not sharing with them what I know about sports and athletics. This makes dealing with the occasional chair throwing parent, puberty (7th and 8th grade kids can be a handful), and the stress of juggle schedule work and coaching and family time worth it.

    Keep on coaching!

    jeff

    June 5, 2010 at 4:25 pm

  3. I’ve coached my kids’ basketball teams and assistant coached one of my son’s baseball teams. Way, way before I had kids I was a Little League coach for three years. It wears on you sometimes because you want to please everyone. The parents, the kids and yourself. You want to not only be the best coach you can be but you want your kids to get something out of your coaching. I can tell that you, like me, just want the kids to have fun while learning things like sportsmanship and how to play the game.

    But there’s always going to be those things that threaten to ruin it for you. Other parents who don’t like your style, who think you should be all about winning at all costs. Or the parents who think you should never correct their children, no matter who wrong they are doing something. There are the parents who don’t like you simply because you are not part of their clique. It gets disheartening.

    But I can tell you from my experience that it will not matter one iota to those parents years from now what kind of coach you were. You know who will remember? Your kids and the kids you coached. And you. Screw the parents who make you feel like you shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t see *them* getting out there to coach their kids.

    Also (sorry this is so long) – make sure you delegate responsibility. Have another parent be in charge of making a schedule for snacks and drinks and keeping on top of it.

    Michele Catalano

    June 6, 2010 at 7:45 am

  4. Thanks, Leon. Funny story about keeping score: When I was a kid, my mom, who never watched a baseball game in her life, volunteered to “help” with scoring for my team. Of course, that meant she ended up being there every game. I’d love to say that led to a lifetime of scoring-at-home (ha!), but it was just confined to my team.

    Bob Cook

    June 7, 2010 at 12:28 am

  5. Thanks, Jeff. Actually, my baseball league does have assigned tasks as you describe (snack person, special events person, etc.), though as manager I have to get those people to volunteer, and I have to determine whether they’ve done enough to earn their volunteer points.

    You’re right in that, in the end, the joy comes from the kids and how they respond. The one thing I worried about in my post, after the fact, was that it was too much about what I get out of it, and not what the kids get out of it. The thing is, you’ll never know whether someday way down the road some kid might speak fondly of you — or not! At the least, as long as my own kids enjoy having me coach, that goes a long way toward balancing out all the B.S.

    Bob Cook

    June 7, 2010 at 12:31 am

  6. Thanks, Michele. You make a good point about trying to please everyone — which, of course, you can’t. You have to accept you’re more than likely going to be one of these archetypes (and not always the same one depending on sports and demeanor at the time of sport)

    http://trueslant.com/bobcook/2009/09/01/the-field-guide-to-youth-sports-coaches/

    Talking about volunteers — as I mentioned to Jeff, the baseball leagues has me get them together before the season — a mom complained to me that if the bench was so out of control (I don’t have the best-behaved group this year), why isn’t there a team mom to handle the bench like in T-ball last year? I explained to her that bench wrangler isn’t an official position, but that if she wanted to do it, I would be more than happy to have her along. “Uh, well, no!” she snapped back. Then STFU.

    Bob Cook

    June 7, 2010 at 12:38 am

  7. […] an article appeared that had me thinking of the high-wire act that is coaching my 7-year-old son’s baseball team. On the Chicago Tribune website, the story was titled: “Teacher or Tyrant? What do you do […]

  8. I have four children, three boys and a girl, and am a teacher. I coached middle school soccer and baseball as well as high school skiing, but now I coach my sons baseball teams and basketball as well as my daughters basketball team. They range in age from 12 to 9. I must honestly say in all the years I have been coaching I have never had a parent “go off” on me. I have heard third hand of complaints now and then about playing time and the like. I know that exists. This year I am the assistant coach on a Little League all-star team and I hear third hand how all the other parents coaches would start so and so over so and so and how this person shouldn’t even be on the team etc., etc. Unfortunately, our culture has become such that I am afraid that is the norm. As coaches the best we can do is conduct ourselves with class and fairness. We should be about teaching young athletes about the sport, competition, winning, and most of all how to handle winning and lose with class, humility, and dignity.

    The older the children get and the more important teaching about winning becomes the more the parents can become a problem. I have found over the years that the coaches that have the most problems – unless they are regularly winning – are those who do the most yelling. Now, I do my fair share but it is never at a child berating them. It is about the team always and is always about instruction – including how to compete, which sometimes requires a bit more intensity from the coach.

    There is a site that has a page where coaches, parents, or anyone else can share stories, tips, strategies, etc. which can be invaluable for a youth sports coach. If you go to http://www.physical-education-institute.com and click on the submissions button on the left that takes you to a page that has a variety of links on the bottom. Click on the coaching link at the bottom and share your stories there.

    coachbarnard

    July 1, 2010 at 1:03 pm


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