Coach Your Kid's Sports Team
Community - Give back to your neighbors at home and abroad - the rewards may surprise you
So your first grader wants to play soccer, but your league is short of coaches. You're not sure you can step up-you never even played high school soccer. Well, set aside your qualms and get out onto the field. These kids need you.
More than 26 million children are involved in team sports in America. They are coached by 2.5 million volunteers-moms and dads whose main qualification is only that their kids want to play. At the youngest levels, which is a fine place to start, all these kids need is some basic training, adult supervision, and a whole lot of moral support.
Coaching is more work than you'd think but much more rewarding, too. For every hour you put in on the field, you'll spend at least another in administrative duties: setting schedules, E-mailing parents, submitting league paperwork, planning practices. (You've got nine kids on your basketball squad, for instance, and each one must play at least two quarters, but some can play three. Figure that out.) But on the rewards side, what could be better than helping kids learn how to love to play a game?
The easiest way to learn to be a coach is to sign on as another coach's assistant for a season. Good coaches are always looking for assistants-some would like three or four. At the youngest levels, an assistant can be any adult with a nice smile. In youth baseball, a good coach runs the practice as a set of stations. One assistant may hit fly balls to the outfield; another may work on throwing; another may toss balls for players to hit. The key is small instruction groups to keep everyone busy.
Coaching is a way to serve your community and help youngsters improve their skills. But its rewards go far beyond that: You're teaching kids important lessons about teamwork, adversity, and respect for rules and officials. After all, youth basketball players don't have agents, and kid football players don't celebrate in the end zone.
Self-control. Coaching also carries with it a big responsibility-being a behavioral role model. If you blow a game, the kids will forgive you; they probably won't even know what you did wrong. But if you blow up at one of your players, they may never forget. So take a coaching course, such as those sponsored by the National Alliance for Youth sports (www.nays.org)-they emphasize making sports fun for kids-or join the Positive Coaching Alliance at www.positivecoach.org.
One other thing: Coaching lets you see your own children playing and working with others-something you don't get to see while they are in school. And as you spend a lot of time around other kids, you will learn that there are other children who, in one way or another, are just as neat as your own.
Your own children, of course, will never tell you what it means to them when you put on that hat and team jersey. But you know darn well what they are thinking: "My mom, my dad, my coach."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.