Youth Sports Community Enriched by Our Coaches
“Gather up, y’all, and take a knee.” If you spent any time as a kid playing an organized sport, chances are good you still remember your coach and that favored expression.
My first coach was a Catholic priest, and his job was to try to teach baseball to a group of bumbling 6-year-olds. Back in those days, there was no T-ball or soft baseballs. There were positions, hard baseballs, wooden bats and — as a result of all the above — stitches.
I got off OK that year. I just passed out from heat stroke in center field, but was revived with a can of Coca-Cola. I don’t remember much about our coach’s skills, but he was a gentle soul, which meant he probably spent more time counseling us to “do our best” than to win. Imagine a 1970s version of Bing Crosby in “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” minus the crooning.
Several seasons later, I had a baseball coach who was a plumber. We rode to games in the back of his service van, sitting on busted toilets and overturned buckets, dodging flying tools and spare pipes. He smoked cigarettes nonstop, so our pursuit of good, clean exercise was always slightly clouded in a Pall Mall haze.
In my early teen years, I switched over to soccer. Most of us who played soccer would gladly have played football, were it not for the passionate coach who grabbed players by their face masks and screamed until he was red in the face. Off the field, he was a gregarious and generous man. On the field, he was Woody Hayes’ mentor.
Viewed today from my position as a sideline dad, I see these guys (well, not the priest) for what they were: dads giving the little free time they had to help teach kids a game they love.
These days, youth sports is a far more complicated endeavor, and not necessarily a better one. For the serious athlete — or the parent who thinks his or her son or daughter is scholarship material — there are serious coaches, and serious training.
But the vast majority of our kids out there are playing for fun, and they are led by average moms and dads who, already too busy with their careers and own families, nevertheless squeeze time into those full schedules to coach.
When our daughter played soccer in Greensboro, we were blessed with a coach who had been a talented college player in the not-too-distant past. You could see Wes’ coaching skill in the beyond-her-years play of his daughter, but for the rest of the team he emphasized only fun and team-building. The skills and rules of the game came only after Wes made sure the girls were first having fun.
Last spring, not quite knowing what to expect with the youth sports scene here, we introduced Ayden to T-ball through Pinehurst Parks and Rec. What we encountered was a loving, nurturing — and gently nudging — environment designed to introduce core concepts and wrap it all into an hour of fun and running around.
Coach Brooks, a busy doctor with Pinehurst Medical, was always there for the kids, even if he had to show up in scrubs rather than go home and change clothes first.
This fall, in addition to returning to coach Brooks and the field at Cannon Park, we also signed our daughter on with an A.C. Sandhills recreation soccer team. Saturday mornings, we have had the pleasure of hunting for a parking spot at the Morganton Road soccer complex.
With all our youth teams here, moms and dads are not mere spectators consigned to the sidelines. We are all assistants, filling in, helping out as co-wranglers. This past Tuesday, Loreleigh’s soccer coach, himself a busy anesthesiologist, couldn’t make it to practice, so two other parents turned out in the chilly, misty evening to lead the girls through a spirited 90-minute session.
Most of us don’t harbor beliefs that our children are sports prodigies. For us, it’s enough that they learn a game, practice how to work within a team, act cooperatively, and burn off energy.
Our parent-coach volunteers do our community a valuable service. In their own way, they’re helping to build tomorrow’s solid citizens.
Even my chain-smoking plumber baseball coach had his heart in the right place. None of us rose up to be star athletes, but most of us learned to get down on a grounder and support our teammates.
So thanks to all you coaches for what you do and the time you give. And feel free to make our kids take a lap. Trust us: If it doesn’t build character or conditioning, it certainly builds memories.
John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.
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