Dear Youth Coaches Everywhere,
First, before I say anything else, let me say this: Thank you. Thank you for your time, for your energy, for your heart, and for your patience. It’s one thing to have the energy as a parent to sign your child(ren) up for sports, and an entirely different thing altogether to volunteer your time to actually coach those children while the rest of us sit back and watch. Very few people willingly subject themselves to the rowdiness, the craziness, and the ups and downs that come with coaching a group of kids, but you do, and that alone deserves massive praise.
Now that we have a few years and quite a few different coaches under our belts, it’s become increasingly obvious what a BIG job you have. Organized sports are a place where kids learn and grow so much. They learn to win, and they learn to lose. They learn what it feels like to be significantly more talented than another team, they learn what it feels like to pale in comparison to another team, and they learn how to humble themselves in the process.
As the coach, these children look up to you. Whether you eagerly signed up to coach or were “voluntold” to your position (my friends’ way of describing the art of volunteering someone else for something), you have taken on a job that holds great power. You have the power to build up or tear down and the power to teach kids how to play together or against each other. You have the power to create good sports or sore losers. You have the power to instill a love of the game and build a foundation of fun and enjoyment. You have the power to make it fun and the power to take the fun away. This power is truly endless, and when you realize the scope of your influence, you will realize that your job is way more significant than you ever imagined.
I know you may feel like you are just there to manage the chaos and keep the children from getting hurt, but there are a lot of eyes on you. There are eyes watching when things get rough. They see the way you respond to aggressive players and poor calls. When you begin to yell and let a few curse words slip, they store that away in their subconscious and see it as an acceptable way to respond to adversity. When you coach your players through it instead, giving them tips on how to handle a crummy situation and look beyond the adversity, they tuck that little lesson away too. These little eyes see the way you handle successful games too. They see you shake the coach’s hand, thank the umpire/referee for his or her service, and compliment the other players on a game well played. They see you bench players for making a mistake, they see you focus your efforts on the best players, and they notice when you play the kids who struggle the most and encourage them as they fumble through the game. The way you talk and the way you act will extend far beyond the fences of the field.
In today’s day and age, youth sports have gotten more and more competitive at younger and younger ages. I’ve watched coaches bench players as young as six years old for making a mistake, and I’ve seen coaches drive up the score into double digits just because they could. I totally understand the inherent desire to win, but I beg you to consider the possibility that there is so much more to youth sports than the final score. Consider the possibility this is when kids decide whether they are athletic or not (even though many kids don’t find their niche sport until they are in junior high). When you start and bench the same seven year olds at every game, they realize you have already decided who is good and who is not. Not only do they begin to internalize that winning is the most important thing, but they also potentially miss out on the fun, the camaraderie, and the true joy of being part of a team.
My son did not begin to play baseball until he was eight, which is considered a “late start” by many, and he looked a bit like a wobbly baby giraffe those first practices and games. However, he had a coach who believed in creating athletes, not just improving those who exhibit natural talent, and by the end of the season, you would have never known it was my son’s first. Every player, even the ones who looked like they did not care a lick about being on the field, received equal playing time and equal coaching. His coach cared more about teaching the game, building confidence, and allowing his players to have fun more than he did about winning, and the smiles on ALL of their faces were enough to make me realize what an incredible coach he was.
So, coaches, as you can see, you are a big a deal. You have taken on a huge task — one that most of us won’t even consider — and your influence is far-reaching. What you are doing out there on that field isn’t about the trophy, it isn’t about being the best team, and it honestly isn’t even about the sport. Your job is about one thing and one thing only: the children. Do your job well, and all of those other things will take care of themselves.
With much gratitude and respect,
A Little League Mom