Nicknames often are special; generally, they’re unique. Then there’s the one nickname to which you lose your identity, your class status, your ethnicity, and your educational background (but, unfortunately, not your weight or age): It’s the name “Coach”. You assume something when you’re granted this inglorious title, one that strikes terror into the hearts of youth from the abject fear of pending push-ups, and invites the ire of helicopter parents who’d rather have their children find “themselves” instead of the ball that just parked itself nearby, interrupting a daydream.
I had “serial coached” for a bit, jumping from sport to sport, but I never knew how the moniker stuck until one day I strolled the “Golden U” of my local grocery store. I felt a tug on my shirt. Completely out of context, since I was sans whistle and the requisite cleats, a child peered up and shrieked, “Hey, Coach!” Maggie had been an energetic member of my soccer team, but she had grown quite a bit, leaving my memory jogging through mental cards, until I finally responded the best way I could. I bent down, smiled and inquired, “Are you still playing?” She gave the best answer: “Yes!” She was playing in an elite soccer club.
Nothing gives a coach more joy than leaving a child motivated to move to grander fields far beyond the domain of a middle-aged guy with a bit of a pouch.
Joining the club of volunteer coaching has wonderful perks, including seemingly endless juice boxes, muddy shoes, stinging high fives and the opportunity to watch iMovie films of 9-year-olds set to the beat of a 90s grunge band. You’ve never felt special, truly needed, until you’ve reached into a kid’s mouth to fix his retainer.
The real joy of coaching is to see that spark in children: To see them connect with the game and begin to understand it; to watch as they revel in victory, concede defeat … and find something in themselves that they didn’t know they had. To be the person who fosters that is one of life’s greatest honors. Getting a YouTube video from a kid 1,284 miles away 3 years after he moved was a moment that brought a sentimental tear that was worth every minute I’d wasted previously on bungled practice plans generated at 11:34 at night.
I’ve met so many coaches, many with great careers, who’ve said, “If I only could devote my life to this!” and “I love this better than my day job!”
As another friend of mine and fellow coach said, “There are two kinds of people: Those who are about kids and those who are about their kid.” This is a critical distinction for every parent to understand and respect. The name “Coach” is one of caretaker, mentor and drill sergeant; one that takes a chance for love of the game and love of community.
Know that when you take on that illustrious badge, clipboard in hand, that it’s time to rally some fun and make a difference in kids’ lives. You may be the only good dad they’ll ever know. Lead with spirit and lead with love. Set the example and enjoy one of the great earthly rewards. Take on the name that so many great men do: Be a Coach.