Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Coach (sport)

Youth baseball team trip put at risk by coach's arrest, checkbook's seizure

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I’ll get the happy ending out of the way. The Taylor, Pa., 15- to 18-year-old American Legion baseball team will make it to a tournament in South Carolina after all, despite the arrest of its coach, thanks to a $1,000 donation July 13 from employees at Semian Real Estate Group.

The community at large has raised another $1,000, but maybe the Semian employees felt a little bit worse about the possibility the team couldn’t travel. After all, it apparently was their co-worker who put the trip at risk.

Phil Godlewski, 27, was head coach of the team until getting arrested July 9 on charges relating to his alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Maybe this with the first time police got involved, but Godlewski’s job as a high school baseball coach ended when the victim’s mother (apparently of the same girl at the center of the criminal investigation) complained to school officials about alleged inappropriate contact with her daughter.

According to police, the relationship started when Godlewski helped the victim cope with the death of a boyfriend. “All right, the boyfriend died! Now I can make my move!”

(As an aside, in so many of these coach-player relationships, the player and the coach have gotten closer because the coach is helping the player through a difficult time, anything from a death or a divorce to a hangnail or a mosquito bite. If your child is seeking the counsel of a coach for deep conversation and coping, immediately remove that child from the team. Trust me.)

So after Godlewski’s arrest, he was suspended from coaching the Legion team, under that organization’s rules.

One problem: the $2,000 for the team’s South Carolina trip was in Godlewski’s personal bank account — not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, though for many reasons it’s probably better the money is kept in a separate, team account. (As another aside, Godlewski was in hot water with Legion authorities over having scheduled an out-of-state trip to a non-Legion tournament while his team was scheduled to play Legion games, which under league rules would have forced Taylor to forfeit those games.)

However, no one from the Legion team can get to the money (one of the many reasons it’s good not to have it in someone’s personal account). Police seized two cars, as evidence, in which Godlewski and the girl were alleged to have sexual contact. The cars contained bats, balls, equipment — and Godlewski’s checkbook.

Hence, why the team had to scramble to raise $2,000.

Fortunately, the people of Taylor, Pa., have come through, in particular Godlewski’s co-workers. They just need to make sure the checkbook for the account doesn’t end up in the wrong, well-worn back seat.

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Written by rkcookjr

July 14, 2010 at 12:50 am

Youth baseball coach/dad reacts violently to player/son acting violently

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“Who taught you to totally lose your shit when you got mad? Huh?”

“YOU, DAD! I learned it by watching you!”

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From The Associated Press:

Youth baseball coach Ray Boudreau of suburban Harrisburg, Pa., is charged with simple assault after his 9-year-old son was punched in the face for being ejected from a game.

According to court papers, Boudreau struck his son twice with a closed fist at the game [July 5], but defense attorney Brian Perry says that while Boudreau handled the situation poorly, he actually struck the boy on the back.

Boudreau is scheduled to appear at a hearing on July 27.

Court papers say the umpire and scorekeeper called police, who arrested Boudreau at his Enola home.

An officer says he observed redness on the boy’s face.

Perry says Boudreau spent Monday night in jail.

He said the boy was ejected for throwing his helmet after he was thrown out at third base.

Written by rkcookjr

July 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Too competitive to coach?

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There are certain personalities that aren’t made for youth sports coaching, though that doesn’t stop them from coaching anyway. Jennifer Gish, a parenting columnist for the Times-Union in Albany, N.Y., thinks she is one of those personalities.

She wrote a series of columns about a baseball team of 7- to 9-year-olds the Times-Union co-sponsored, and by her own description she played an over-the-top competitive team owner. But then as the team’s season drew to a close, Gish — a mother of toddler twins yet to reach the age of getting yelled at by other people’s parents for their sports abilities — came to an unnerving conclusion. Maybe her columnist persona wasn’t an act. From her Times-Union blog:

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An early rough of “The Jennifer Gish Story.”

So, I’ve already barred myself from coaching Andrew and Matilda in any future athletic pursuits. And maybe dance class. And maybe I won’t help them get ready for the school spelling bee, either.

Looking over at the t-ball fields one day, I thought maybe I’d be OK at that level, but I’m not so sure. I have issues, people.

I’ve always been competitive, and I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to turn that off, even when it comes to kids. I had a tension headache all day the day of my Little League team’s playoff game, and felt queasy through every inning. Meanwhile, the kids, who are 7- to 9-years-old after all, kept busy debating whose dad was oldest.

I don’t think I’m at the level of keying some umpire’s car over a bad call. And I probably wouldn’t be the parent who gets tossed out of a game, but I don’t like what was going on in my head. And I’d hate to project that to the kids.

So this mom’s benched. For life.

I’d like to first congratulate Jennifer Gish on her self-awareness. Better to discover this flaw now, then when she’s actually coaching a team and becomes single-handedly responsible for her kids’ future therapy sessions, as well as the future therapy sessions of every other kid on the team, as well as the future therapy sessions of every parent, opposing coach, league official and umpire who ever crosses her path.

However, she has passed the first step on the 12-step program to becoming a good youth coach. (Sometimes the admitting you have a problem is not about competitiveness — it may be about a lack of competitiveness, a lack of knowledge of the sport in question, or a lack of motivation to coach for any reason beyond grooming kids for their future molestation by you.)

I left a comment on Gish’s blog, which as of this writing is not up because it is in the dreaded limbo of “awaiting moderation.” But I make these points:

1. If you’re that bad, maybe you shouldn’t even go to your kids’ games.

2. However, this competitiveness is common. As a coach, I feel like parents of younger kids (except, perhaps, those who have older kids and have been through this before) run in only two directions: over-the-top competitive, or over-the-top believing that fun at sports means no coaching, no scores, no nothing.

3. That there is time to modulate whatever extreme you have as a parent of young children. I recommended to Gish that she go to kids’ games in which she has no rooting interest. Once she sees all the parents and coaches acting like loons, that should take the edge off her competitiveness a bit.

Written by rkcookjr

June 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

The fine line between coaching and tyranny

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David St. Hubbins knows of fine lines.

As a coach — or anyone who manages people of any age, for that matter — one of the trickiest parts of the job is knowing when to push, and knowing when to step off the gas. Making that trick even more complicated is that you want your players, even if they detest you at the time for pushing them, to look back someday (the next day, the next week, when they’re sitting with their grandkids) and realize that you did the right thing. As a youth coach, you hope the parents feel the same way — especially because the definition of “pushing too hard” is very, very flexible in their collective eyes.

In one of my favorite books, Terry Pluto’s “Loose Balls,” a history of the American Basketball Association, a general manager explains this philosophy as he relates ex-NBA all-star Cliff Hagan’s mindset when he became an ABA coach: “I had eight coaches in the pros. I liked six of them and hated the other two. The only ones we won with were the guys I hated.”

Of course, executing this philosophy was a little simpler for Hagan than it is for your everyday youth coach today. For one thing, Hagan was managing pros, so he didn’t have to worry about parents, equal playing time, or the after-game snack. Also, this was the 1960s, when coaches from pee-wee level up were practically expected to yell, or else it didn’t sound like coaching. (Part of what made the late John Wooden so radical was that he didn’t raise his voice.) As a youth coach, you always have to strike a tricky balance between teaching and pushing your kids to excel, and not pushing otherwise engaged kids right out of the sport — or pushing parents to yell at you.

Recently 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 when your kid’s hard-driving coach — or ballet teacher — steps over the line into full-fledged cruelty?”

When former U.S. Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu said her coach Martha Karolyi once slammed her face into a phone and that Martha’s husband, Bela, twice berated her for her weight in front of teammates, the sports world was shocked.

Kind of.

Other gymnasts downplayed the complaints of Moceanu, who was only 14 when she competed on the 1996 gold-medal team, and praised the Karolyis’ results. …

And therein lies the dilemma for parents of children who are seriously involved in sports and the arts. Many of the best coaches and instructors are disciplinarians who push kids hard and get results; a few are tyrants who push their players too hard or berate them cruelly.

How are parents of hard-driving kids supposed to tell the difference? And even if you know you have a tyrant on your hands, how much can you really do to contain the behavior of an adult with the power to bench your sports-loving son or derail your daughter’s college scholarship?

First, to answer that question before I get to how this applies to those of us who coach or have kids in far less elite situations. If you and your child (or just you, pushing your child) are investing heavily in a career as an elite anything, at some point your child is going to get pushed — hard. With so many parents and children competing for the same spots, coaches know that if you don’t like it, there are 1,000 others waiting in line to take whatever guff they’ll give. Don’t count on other parents, even if they are appalled by the coach’s behavior, to join you in some sort of boycott or fight.

In most cases, your option, cruel as it sounds, is like it or lump it. If the cost of being an elite athlete or performer is you and/or your child’s sanity, maybe that Olympic gold is worth too much.

Now, for the rest of us: where is that fine line between coaching and tyranny? In the eye of the beholder, that’s where.

In the 1960s, as a coach I could be Cliff Hagan, yelling at kids, and no one would have thought anything of it, in part because parents didn’t go to every practice and game like they do now, so they would have never seen it. When my father pulled my brother and I off a Little League baseball team in 1980 because he thought the coach was such a raging asshole, even for that time that was an unusual move. (It paid off — the next year my brother and I were on a different team with more mellow coach, and we won our league championship, while raging asshole’s team was at the bottom of the league.)

People write stories about whether coaches yell more than they used to, but the truth is that coaches on the whole probably do so less than they did even back in my day, when I was walking with no shoes in a snowstorm to school, which was five miles away, uphill both ways. Parents at the time hoped that sports would be a positive experience, but they didn’t demand it be a positive experience as they do now. Not that the demand is a bad thing. But what it’s done is, for some parents, move the fine line between coaching and tyranny to a place where a coach might not able to say anything without getting grief.

Twice this season in coach my son’s 7-year-old baseball team, I’ve had parents upset with me because they’ve felt I’ve pushed their kids — and the whole team — too hard. No doubt, I do push. I expect the kids to pay attention, to be good teammates, to not climb the backstop fence, to not hit each other, to do what their coaches ask. As I explained to one parent, I’m not asking anything that their teachers don’t ask them to do in school. I know I have a loud voice, and I know that sometimes I test the limits of how far to push a 7-year-old. It’s a no-score league, so I’m not pushing them to win. I’m pushing them to become better baseball players and teammates. (Note: It’s my blog, so I can make myself sound like the hero.)

That parents would quibble with my style is to be expected. It happens to every coach. What has shocked me, however, is something I’ve never heard, ever, until now. Both sets of complaining parents, when I said that I expect the kids to listen (say, when I’m giving instruction, or when I’m telling them not to swing a bat in the dugout), responded, each with almost these exact words: “They’re just kids. If they don’t want to listen, you shouldn’t make them.”

Is that where the fine line between coaching and tyranny is? That if I expect kids to do anything other than exactly what they want at the time they want it, I’m a raging asshole?

The second incident with a parent came after I told their kid he wasn’t going to bat because he refused my request for him to pinch-run for a teammate. His teammate, the first batter up, got hit on the hand with a pretty fast pitch, and was very sore and upset. I asked this particular kid to pinch-run because he was last in the batting order. He said, no, he wouldn’t. I asked him again. He said no. I asked him again. He said no. I said he wouldn’t have his turn at bat if he didn’t get on first base. He said no. So I sent another kid out (who dutifully and smartly put on a helmet and ran to first base), and told the refusenik he wasn’t going to get his turn at bat.

That might seem harsh, but I try to teach these kids that there are consequences for your actions. I wasn’t asking the kid to clean the dugout with his tongue. I was asking him to do what 7-year-olds normally love to do — run the bases. (Again, it’s my blog, so I can be the hero.)

The reason this fine line between coaching and tyranny can be so tricky at a youth level is because, particularly with younger kids, you’re colliding with parenting styles. Maybe, at home, there are parents who let their kids do what they want, when they want, and there’s never a consequence for doing anything wrong. I don’t know. But I do know that when you’re coaching, one parent can praise you as a good coach and teacher, while the next thinks you’re a raging asshole.

And if you’re a youth coach, that’s how things are going to be. Like it or lump it.

USA Swimming getting lessons in how not to molest children

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USA Swimming, apparently not able to figure out itself how not to have coaches abuse children, is partnering with the Child Welfare League of America to teach it. Here is USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus, explaining in a joint June 21 news release how this uncomfortable marriage came to be.

“As a youth sports organization, we recognized the importance of obtaining concentrated input from independent experts in the field of child welfare.  After meeting with the CWLA and reviewing the long and distinguished history of the organization, we are confident that we have the best people helping us with our ongoing efforts to serve our membership.”

If Wielgus hadn’t been so stinking clueless and dismissive about problems with swim coaches in ways that would make Pope Benedict blanch, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that this move has please-don’t-sue-me written all over it. Hey, I’ve sat through how-not-to-molest-children training required to coach a Catholic school team, training developed by the church’s liability insurer, so I know a please-don’t-sue-me-move when I see it.

Of course, there are multiple lawsuits already against USA Swimming for various sexual misconduct alleged against coaches, cases that have inspired ex-Olympians such as Diana Nyad and Deena Deardurff Schmidt to step forward to say they were victims, too.

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An attorney in one of the lawsuits dismissed USA Swimming’s announcement, telling The Associated Press that the Child Welfare League of America is a lobbying organization, not one that knows anything about developing youth sports protection guidelines. The league would argue otherwise, but that’s besides the point. After rushing out a seven-point action plan following a devastating report by ABC’s “20/20” on the grabby-hands problem, USA Swimming is hiding behind a brand-name organization so that the next time someone sues, it can say, see, we tried to do something about it. We can’t stop everyone, you know.

Also, USA Swimming’s move would reek a little more of sincerity if it hadn’t, since the “20/20” report, removed coaches critical of its policies from high-profile assignments. Geez, even the Catholic Church lets priests critical of its conduct (or lack thereof) keep their parishes.

Is fan abuse making the youth referee an endangered species?

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Who WOULDN’T want to take grief for $35 a game?

Mark Hyman, author of a recently published tome about what ails youth sports, in the New York Times took aim at a chronic problem: abuse of officials.

Looking for part-time employment in a field in which hundreds of onlookers can raise a ruckus over one’s honest mistake or no mistake at all? There are plenty of openings.

Around the country, it has become harder to find youth sports officials and to keep experienced ones on the job. The situation has forced some games to be postponed and others to be played with short-handed crews. In some places, it is not unusual for football referees to work two games on long and exhausting Friday nights. Spot shortages are also common in soccer and volleyball.

“Are we desperately short? No,” said Jack Folliard, the executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association. “But we are struggling to get enough officials.”

The cause of the problem is not a mystery to those in striped shirts, who are growing weary over abuse from agitated fans, most of them adults.

“I have officials specifically tell me that’s why they’re not renewing their licenses anymore,” said Fran Martin, the assistant executive director of the Kansas High School Athletic Association. “They’re tired of putting up with the behavior.”

It’s difficult to get a handle on how many officials are really quitting, because this recession has created in some areas a boom in the number of people who’ll take that extra $50-75 a night while they try to find, presumably, less abusive employment. But, no doubt, youth official abuse is one of those problems that’s always been with us (I remember my mom, as official scorer during one of my games, having to make sure one coach left the field after the ump ejected him over his abuse — a coach that happened to be one Lyle Moran, my Little League’s founder), and probably always will be.

Think of yourself watching a pro game on television. How often are you outwardly berating the referees? Yes, these are pros, and you might have money on the line, but an occasional gripe is one thing. If you’re constantly blaming your team’s woes on the referees, then you’re a whiner, you’re teaching your kid to be a whiner, and you’re probably more likely to be the type who is going to go off on some 14-year-old girl umping your 8-year-old daughter’s softball game. It’s not that referees are blameless and mistake-free. It’s teaching a lesson to the kids you raise, and you coach, that you worry about the things you can control, like how you play. Kids aren’t going to become better players if they learn everything is always the official’s fault.

Bill Wells, the fine youth sports columnist for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, has two good rules on the only times it’s acceptable to give grief to a youth sports official:

While I’m not a fan of yelling at officials, there are at least two scenarios where I think it’s acceptable, although not ideal. If an official tries to make an example out of a player, or if an official is letting dirty play continue, I think a coach or spectator is somewhat justified in yelling at an official as long as it does not include poor language or threats. Talking to the official would be best, but in the heat of the moment, things do happen.

Note that these scenarios have to do with safety and fairness — not whether the official is a fucking blind incompetent. The only times as a coach I can remember even talking to a referee during a game about calls is when I coached basketball, and I thought players were a little loose with the elbows and a little eager to undercut shooters. In those cases, though, I waited for a time out, and I suggested (nicely, I hope) that even though this is a rec league and things are called a little more loosely, that it might be a good idea to make sure that stuff stops. Like any humanoid, a referee tends to respond better if you ask, respectfully, than if you ask him to open his fucking eyelids, you stupid shit.

Also a good thing to remember for youth sports parents and coaches: The level of officiating can only be equal to the level of play. So if you’re watching a 8-year-old’s baseball game where five out of every six pitches is behind the batter, don’t expect a major-league level umpire.

However, I’m going to assume that not everyone is going to be nice and understanding. It happens. People watch their teams and their kids, and they get emotional, protective, ready to strike if they feel their young ones are being wronged.

So for the self-protection and sanity of officials, I would like to suggest they follow what I will call Sarzo’s Rules for Referees.

I name these after Mike Sarzo, who in 2009 became one of those aforementioned unemployed-turned-referees. Whatever his job situation, Sarzo has continued to officiate various sports, from football to baseball to lacrosse, in the suburban Washington haunts of Maryland. I interviewed him by email in December 2009 about his experiences, and daggone it, he didn’t have multiple harrowing tales to tell about rabid fans wanting to string him up at game’s end.

A lot of this, I believe, is because Sarzo keeps a good head about him on the field. Distilling what he told me, I give you Sarzo’s Rules for Referees:

1. Keep in mind that coaches, fans and players advocate for their own teams.

2. Tune out the comments, and keep the focus on your job.

3. But if the comments go too far, then be prepared to take action. When you say, “Coach, that’s enough,” mean it.

4. Crewmates should support each other on the field. (Off the field, you can critique each other all you want.)

5. Slow down. Make sure you see what happens before you make the call.

While these five rules might not minimize referee abuse, at least they can help the official deal with it. They also increase the chance that even the coach has been a jackhole all game, once the excitement and adrenaline has passed, Coach Jackhole will walk up to you, extend a hand, and say, “Good game, ref.”

Written by rkcookjr

June 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Why I coach(?)

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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).

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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.

Written by rkcookjr

June 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm