My husband was asked to coach one of the 4th grade basketball teams in our city’s upcoming youth league. Normally eager to coach- he has coached our boys’ baseball and soccer teams each of the past three years- he agreed, but with trepidation since he never played organized basketball himself.
He said yes because he’s come to love coaching, no matter the sport. He sees it as an opportunity to impart what he considers important life lessons, like working as a team and winning (and losing) with grace.
He still shares the lessons he learned from his own youth coaches, lessons that were bigger than the fundamentals of baseball or soccer. For instance, Mr. Bellows was his Little League coach one year and my husband says he went from wanting to quit the team from feeling neglected by Mr. Bellows to the man being one of his favorite coaches ever. Mr. Bellows took my then young husband aside after a few weeks and thanked him for his patience during all those practices waayyyy out in right field. Mr. Bellows told him he’d been trying to gauge the rest of the players that whole time. To this day, it’s the story my husband goes into when he wants to talk about patience and/or not knowing what’s going on in the minds of other people.
The New York Times ran a piece a few weeks ago called “The Power of Positive Coaching.” The efforts of the Positive Coaching Alliance were highlighted, an organization that believes “youth sports is about giving young athletes a positive, character-building experience ― not to become major league athletes, but to become ‘major league people’.” What’s really striking about the article, though, are the readers’ comments that generally echo my husband’s, stories about the importance of coaches, coaches that have created (or destroyed) a child’s passion, sometimes changing the course of a child’s life.
With the youth soccer season drawing to a close, my husband arranged a fun scrimmage for his 7/8 year old boys against a team of 7/8 year old girls (their coach is a neighbor and family friend so they brainstormed the idea one night). His pre-scrimmage advice to his players was along the lines of “Play hard, but remember that you’re gentlemen.”
It was a tough match. Those girls didn’t need any sheltering. Watching that pink ball fly around, the 7/8 year olds, at that sweet age when they’re still about the same physical size and strength, really went for the win, giving the spectators a lesson too. I realized I’d held some bias about which side would claim victory, but it was close. And I guarantee that every single one of the players left that scrimmage with a respect and an appreciation for just how good the other, “cooty,” side is.
One of the hallmarks of the community I live in is strong parental involvement, yet it seems like it’s always a struggle for league organizers to find enough parents to coach our kids’ teams. It’s a big commitment, for sure, one that many of us aren’t able to make because of the half dozen obligations we’re trying to juggle. On top of that, it can be daunting. According to the Times article, 2.5 million people volunteer to coach youth sports every year, but less than 10% of them receive any formal training. Some, like my husband with basketball, never even played the sport.
But here’s the thing – with every season, with every team, my husband says he gets more than he gives. He gets to spend individual, quality time with one of our kids (which, in a family of four kids, is hard to do); he gets the satisfaction of seeing the kids on his team learn and grow, and he gets to meet a dozen wonderful families. He also assures me that learning how to work with the kids has made him a more effective manager at the office.
So the next time you’re asked to coach a youth team, consider it seriously. Even if you never played, there are more than enough resources online to give you competence to instill the basics. Sure, it’s a responsibility, but if done well it’s an investment whose returns are priceless.