My husband was asked to coach one of the fourth-grade basketball teams in the upcoming CSD 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.
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 and being neglected to Mr. Bellows becoming one of his favorite coaches ever. Mr. Bellows took a young Brian aside after a few weeks, thanked him for his patience during all those practices way out in right field and told him he’d been trying to gauge the rest of the players that whole time. It ended up being a great season, and Brian realized we don’t always know what’s going on with other people. To this day, it’s the story he goes into when he wants to talk about patience.
The New York Times ran a piece a few weeks ago called “The Power of Positive Coaching” (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/the-power-of-positive-coaching/). Highlighted were the efforts of the Positive Coaching Alliance, 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 soccer season drawing to a close, Brian arranged a fun scrimmage for his 7- and 8-year-old boys against a team of 7- and 8-year-old girls. (Their coach is a neighbor and family friend so they brainstormed the idea one night). Brian’s 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- and 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 player left that scrimmage with a respect and an appreciation for just how good the other “cooty” side is.
One of the hallmarks of our community 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 percent 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. And he 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.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills resident and the mother of four young children. See more of her work at kidfocused.com.