“Olivia, how would you feel about playing on a soccer team this fall?” I asked my kindergartner one morning. “I started playing when I was your age and loved it.”
“Oh, yeah, mom, that would be great,” she responded with great enthusiasm. “But will you be my coach?”
Uh oh, I hadn’t seen that one coming. “Um…” I stammered. A million excuses came to mind. No experience. No time. No expertise.
“Well, uh, I really don’t know the first thing about coaching,” I protested.
“You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.” That was my line every time one of my kids pleaded ignorance. Olivia gave me a sly little grin, proud of herself for finding the perfect application for my line, and skipped off to the backyard.
Me, a coach? The more I thought about it, the more pathetic my excuses sounded. I’d be driving them to all the practices and games anyway. I’d be a great role model for my kids. And I could really use the exercise.
So I called the local soccer club. Were they in need of coaches? Did they take coaches with no experience? Could they show me how to get started? Yes, yes and yes! It was time I got in the game.
The more I dug into youth sports, the more evidence I found in support of it. I was astounded by the number of research studies that show sports are good for kids’ minds, bodies, and behavior. Athletic participation has been proven to enhance academic learning, character development and the long-term health of kids in a myriad of ways:
- Physical activity has a positive influence on concentration, memory and classroom behavior, and youth who participate in sports achieve more academically and are more likely to go to college.
- 10-16 year olds who have a relationship with a coach or mentor are 46% less likely to start using drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking alcohol.
- Regular exercise through sports regulates weight gain and decreases the risk of heart disease, and is one of the most effective means of combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
Yet despite the overwhelming case for youth athletics, opportunities for kids to play sports are in serious decline. An estimated $3.5 billion was cut from U.S. public school sports programs between 2009 and 2011, and only a third of teens from low-income families now take part in school sports. These cuts come despite the fact that school sports and extracurricular activities are extremely cost-effective, accounting for only about 1-3% of a school’s budget and engaging 60-70% of students. I decided to get off the sidelines.
“Guess who’s your new soccer coach?” I asked Olivia at dinner a few evenings later. She was thrilled. The kindergarten soccer program was a very manageable commitment: just six Friday nights for an hour. And they made it as easy as possible: players from multiple teams came together for a demonstration of a drill given by professional coaches. Then we returned to our fields to practice, followed by a short game. Even I couldn’t foul that up.
Coaching had more benefits than I ever imagined. I loved watching my daughter’s tact and diplomacy shine as she apologized to the other team’s goalie each time she scored. I built terrific friendships with other parents in our community, all of whom sincerely appreciated the time I put into coaching their daughters. And I improved my fitness as I stretched, ran and played right alongside my team.
The greatest reward came from watching the young girls grow in strength, confidence, and pride. Every single one of them made a goal that season, the last one scoring in the last two minutes of the final game. The look on her face was priceless as the entire team celebrated her goal. That moment alone was worth every minute of every practice and every game.
Olivia and I have now played five soccer seasons together. She has never been more beautiful to me then when she’s charging down the field, in control of the ball, her body, and her self-esteem. And her younger sister Signe can’t wait to play on her first kindergarten team this fall. Guess who will be her coach.
As Nike says, just do it. Call your local youth sports program; they’ll be thrilled to have you as a volunteer. If you can’t take on the head coach commitment, offer to assistant-coach your kid’s team. Become a running buddy with Girlsontherun.org, helping a girl in your neighborhood train for a 5k. Help AmericaScores.org roll out after-school programs that combine literacy and athletics. Or give to FirstTee.org and help low-income youth golf their way to better life and leadership skills . There are a multitude of ways you can help kids succeed in life through sports.
Still not sure how to get in the game? You’re smart, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.