I was a t-ball coach for two seasons and quickly realized my child would benefit from me not being her coach.
I made this mental note when I had a dad rush out to the batter’s box in the middle of a game, push me aside and correct my coaching of his 5-year-old daughter; a sweet little girl who wanted nothing to do with baseball, but loved dandelions. When she would bat, I would simply say, “Do you see the ball on the tee through that big helmet?” She would nod and I would ask, “What are you gonna do to it?” and she would yell, “Crush it!” That was our thing. That’s what you do to a ball on a tee when you’re a ferocious Tiger!
My style was simple, considering I had nose pickers, dreamers, plane watchers and dandelion blowers — my absolute favorite kind of people! My coaching strategy was to have fun, inspire them, and give lots of praise. We painted our faces to be fierce like the tigers we were. We had treasure hunts to try to learn the bases — my one goal for the season. We caught water balloons. We learned songs to shout from the bench, and we cheered each other on, no matter what.
One of the best parts for the kids was whatever the snack was. The best part for me was watching them do something they didn’t think they could do and seeing their faces light up with pride and confidence. The fact that I witnessed that in all of them was a treasure I found and will never forget. It was all very simple, and for me, the ideal age and time to be a coach, because all too soon the sideline “coaches” step in with screaming, shouting, badgering and bullying that shatters the simplicity and joy out of it all.
I’m too emotional and mouthy to be able to withstand that. I’m too sensitive. Too stuck to my convictions, and I knew eventually I would cave to a lower level and be one of those people who ended up on the news with a bench-clearing brawl I started because I went after a sideline “coach” like a wild, cracked-out boar.
Therefore, I want to take a moment to give a nod to all the brave people who have continued coaching and volunteering their time, energy, passion, sweat and a little piece of their soul to organized sports. It’s not an easy gig. My husband is one of those people. He genuinely cares for every kid on his team. He’s not perfect, but he’s the one who volunteered and shows up for his team time and time again. He’s the one who calls the shots. Whether he blew it sending your kid home or not, he’s just trying his best after a full day of work, car trouble, trying to find pairs of baseball socks, stripping out of a full suit, stopping for gas, scarfing down a piece of cheese and coming in hot to the ballpark to inspire every kid to just have fun and try their best — win or lose.
As I sit on the sidelines amongst a smattering of sane and insane parents. I have constructed a playbook that I’d like to share with some of you sideline coaches that might help suppress or a least guide your next outburst.
4 TIPS TO BECOMING A GREAT SIDELINE COACH
(Everything you need to know you can learn from a t-ball player)
1. BLOW DANDELIONS: Before you move closer to the playing field to step in and offer advice, tips, tricks, or how you would have, could have, have, did when you were in high school, or any other sideline coaching tip, see if there is a dandelion nearby. Blow your hot air toward the dandelion and make a wish for your child to make it pro. Now, go find another one…
2. LOOK UP IN THE SKY: When you feel the need to stand behind the umpire to ensure the 80-pound 13-year-old boy who barely fits in the pads is making the right calls, look up in the sky for airplanes. If the bars of a facemask obstruct your view, you are an umpire. If not, you are an embarrassment.
3. PICK YOUR NOSE: You might feel the urge to pick the lineup, shout out what positions kids should play, or even step in and pitch for the coach who is trying to lob in strikes to a three-foot frightened 7-year-old. Instead, take a moment to shove your fingers up your nose, feel around up there and try to find your brains. If you reach them — wow. If not, keep searching until the game is over.
4. DREAM: If you feel the urge to scream, berate, embarrass, harass, demean or shame your child when they make a mistake, stop for just a moment and try to remember how much you dreamt of becoming a parent one day.
Thank you, coaches, for your time and effort in just trying to get a kid to see how much potential, possibility and magic they have inside — no matter what kind of curve ball comes from life’s sideline.
— Courtney Kotoski
Courtney Kotoski is a professional writer and creative director. She’s the author of 16 children’s books in the Gnat & Corky series, a collection of universal stories that are based on the spirit of real kids (@gnatandcorky). You can follow her Keep Your Soul blog or visit her website to read her stories.