One weekend not too long ago, my eight-year-old son Finn concluded his third consecutive year of playing basketball in a Saturday morning youth athletics league. That weekend also marked another milestone. It was the third year in a row my wife Kelly did not ask me, “How about you coach his team next year?”
She knows me too well.
I subscribe to the theory that successfully playing to your strengths also requires avoiding your weaknesses. And for me, there’s a long list of activities to avoid, chief among them being anything that combines competitive athletics and mentoring other people’s children.
So it’s little surprise that year after year I strategically escape the clutches of one of the most common volunteer traps known to man—the youth athletics coach.
Believe me when I say that, for the right person, this hobby can be a satisfyingly selfless gift of time to offer community youth. But for me, it’s just not suited to my skills. Here’s why.
• Uniforms: At some levels of youth competition, some adult coaches have been known to don an adult-sized version of their team’s uniform. Trouble is, many of these uniforms appear to be exact replicas, right down to the youth medium size. Better run a few more laps with the team before squeezing into that costume.
• A multipassenger vehicle: Invariably (and unfortunately) you’ll need as many available seats in your vehicle as possible at the end of nearly every practice when an absent-minded accidental adult parent fails to pick up his kid on time.
• Playbooks and rulebooks: Both are considered must reads, especially for an accidental adult who’s decided on coaching. For example, in a beginner’s football playbook, the offense is usually depicted as Os and the defense as Xs. Telling your team that an easy way to remember the difference is by thinking of Os as hugs and Xs as kisses won’t resonate very well, unless your players are already receiving sugary-sweet text messages from fourth-grade girls. XOXOXO! Likewise, a well-written basketball rulebook will explain that when the referee blows the whistle, stops the game and signals a letter “T” in your direction, after you’ve simply offered him your glasses, he’s not granting you a time-out. (Well, in a way . . .)
• Patience: I really admire volunteer coaches, yet I hold no illusions of ever learning from their examples. Nearly every successful coach I’ve ever met has been gifted with a patience gene not found in my genetic code. Good for them. Not so good for me. (Or for my kids.)
• Restraint: When you coach children, you’re going to see a lot of goofy and sloppy behavior. Adult conduct, however, requires you to call juvenile players by their real names and not by the more colorful and accurate descriptors that naturally pop into your head, like Flopper Boy or Concussion Kid or Freeballer or Mr. Stumbles.
Nearly every Saturday morning of your life, robbing you of precious REM time. This alone is a deal killer for many chronically fatigued accidental adults like me for whom rest is golden and sleep is sacred.
Before Beginning, Ask Yourself . . .
If I can barely concentrate long enough to finish a driveway game of H-O-R-S-E with my son, how can I legitimately ask 12 hyperactive boys to keep their heads in the game for 30 consecutive minutes?
Don’t Be Surprised If . . .
Your kids’ coaches ask you to help assistant-coach a game or two. Such is the level of desperation at this level of athletics.
Be Sure to Tell People . . .
“You know that trick play where the first baseman pretended to throw the ball to the pitcher and then tagged out the runner as he led off toward second base? That was my call, not coach’s.” (If the umpire rules that stunt unfair at the Little League level, it was the coach’s decision—and so bush league.)
So for now, I’m going to keep playing to my strengths, avoid life’s unnecessarily competitive situations and let the intentional adults play coach to my kids. Count on me to bring the postgame snack.
Kids still eat peanut butter cookies, right?