My three kids, ages 10, 15, and 18, were in swimming lessons before they could walk and they’ve been on the go ever since. Besides backyard and local park fun, they’ve participated in everything from gymnastics to t-ball, soccer to hockey, basketball to dance, and coming up this spring, rugby (eeek!).
As for my husband and I, we’ve always loved sports and lived an active lifestyle. I run half marathons, am a volunteer soccer league convenor, and have been an assistant soccer coach. My husband played football in university, now plays basketball three times a week, and has also been an assistant hockey and soccer coach.
It was a no-brainer for me to get involved with my kids’ sports teams but I understand that not everyone jumps at the chance to volunteer. Some coaches I know have stepped up, despite not knowing much about the sport, or a busy schedule, because they know they’re needed to fill a spot. But I also know a lot of parents who just don’t feel comfortable taking on the role.
If that’s you, I get it. But don’t let a lack of sports experience stop you from saying “yes” the next time an opportunity to coach presents itself. Leagues often offer instructional materials and coaching clinics. Depending on your child’s age you may find that you don’t need to know quite as much as you think, and this is also true if you’re signing on as an assistant.
While it can be amazing for our kids when we get involved in their activities, they aren’t the only ones that benefit. Based on my experiences as an assistant coach and from speaking with other parent coaches, I can say with certainty that coaches gain a great deal from their experience with sports leadership.
Here are some good reasons to consider volunteering.
- You’ll get to spend more time with your child
Your child might only be 6-years-old now but there will come a time that she will naturally start to spend more time with friends and teammates and less time hanging out with mom and dad. Coaching her team is a wonderful way to keep a strong connection.
This has been a highlight for Rob Stanley, 2013 Coach of the Year for the Greater Toronto Hockey League, who says that throughout his many years of coaching his son Aiden’s hockey team, he’s been able to be part of something that takes a lot of his son’s time and energy in a sport that he loves. Forging fun and happy memories together, as well as seeing Aiden grow up outside of their home and family environment, has been priceless, says Rob. He points out that coaching the same group of boys for the last five years has also let him be a part of the growth of those kids, too, and that is an experience he would never trade.
- You’ll expand your social network (and I don’t just mean your Facebook friends)
Let’s face it, it’s not always easy for busy adults to make new friends. But getting involved in our kids’ teams can be an introduction to like-minded families who value physical activity and sometimes life-long bonds are forged. As an assistant soccer coach, I made wonderful friends that have become mentors to me in my running and great go-tos for parenting and other advice. We have travelled as families together. We’ve celebrated holidays together. We’ve even been godparents for each other’s children. And who doesn’t need a new friend (or a potential carpool backup for other events)?
- You’ll develop new skills
At the end of our most recent season, a head coach in the soccer league I convene told me that while he had only wanted to be an assistant coach, being a head coach had forced him to learn more about the sport. He gained a whole new appreciation for soccer and ended up loving the experience. Many leagues offer clinics to teach the coaches about their sport and about coaching techniques. It’s a fantastic and important thing to never stop learning. I believe it’s what keeps us young and helps us to relate to our children as they develop new skills. Plus it shows your kids that you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone, which is a really powerful thing for a parent to role model.
- You’ll learn and re-learn life lessons
Many coaches have told me that while they know the importance of instilling positive values in their players, they themselves learn a lot of life lessons along the way. Jordan Elliott, a house league soccer coach of 8- to 10-year-olds, pointed out that while coaching can sometimes test your patience, it also develops it. Patience, along with fair play, responsibility, having fun, leadership, and problem solving are just some of the valuable lessons taught and learned in team sports. All the coaches that I have spoken with have reflected on having to adapt their teaching styles to fit the personalities of their players. Skills such as effective communication and developing self-confidence are tools that they have taken from the rinks and fields and used in their workplaces and in their homes.
- You’ll get a work out, too (and be a good role model)
Nothing tests your athletic endurance like trying to keep up with a field — or rink — full of 7-year-old athletes! Coaches get the benefits of working out with their players at practices and find as the kids’ skills and fitness levels improve, theirs do too. I remember a few times when I’ve had to step to the side of the field pretending that I wanted to “get a look at how the players are moving the ball” when I actually needed to catch my own breath. There’s the added plus of being an active role model but it’s also really good for your own health and well-being to get out there and move.
- You’ll come away with a sense of pride and accomplishment
Daryn Everett, who has coached his two daughters from t-ball to baseball for 12 years, says that he is “exhilarated” by the joy on a player’s face when they reach a goal they didn’t necessarily believe was possible. Everett recalls a playoff game where his players were down two runs going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The coaches called the girls together and seeing their deflated and tired faces, told them that they were proud of them and were happy to go home with the result they had. The girls felt the pressure lift and huddled themselves together with a loud cheer. Going on to score nine runs, the girls eventually went on to win the provincial championships.
Goals don’t always need to be that huge … hitting the ball for the first time can be just as rewarding as hitting a home run to a player and to a coach who has worked tirelessly on helping that player reach that milestone. It’s that “simple smile,” says Everett, that keeps him coming back year after year.
- You’ll have fun
The number one reason kids play a sport is because it’s fun. And honestly, so is coaching. Getting to know the kids, helping them learn, seeing them gain confidence, and taking risks is part of what makes it so great. But you’ll also get to run (or skate) around and play and that is, truly, fun at any age.
If after all this I still haven’t convinced you to try coaching but you have time to devote to a team, assistant coaches and team managers are always needed. Parents can also participate in a variety of roles that require less of a time commitment. I’m lucky enough to work with parents who help book field permits, order uniforms, source out trophies and medals, and bring snacks for kids after the games. The opportunities are endless.
Next time you have the chance to take on the role of coach or any other position in your child’s athletics, don’t shy away. You may find that the benefits for you are just as rewarding as they are for your children.