(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Here's to Non-Parent Volunteer Coaches

My daughter plays on an AAU volleyball team, and what's refreshing is that the coaches love the sport, take a bunch of their personal time to develop kids (including 1 or 2 weeknight practice sessions in their off-season and a few long days on weekends at tournaments that are significantly more than a skip and a hop away from where we live). These a good, knowledgeable, enthusiastic men, who are patient with the girls, who take the time to teach, who run a good ship and a meritocracy. They are trying to build their program in the school district, but they dedicate a bunch of time to develop these kids.

What's refreshing for my daughter is that this is a purer world than softball, where league and team politics were such that you couldn't be sure if someone was playing a position because the commissioner promised someone a spot, she was the coach's kid or the kid of a vocal, annoying parent who pressured a coach too much and the coach yielded. She happened to do well in that environment too, playing a premium position and batting in the heart of the order. But to her, this is different. There's none of the noise about whether the coaches know what they're doing (they do), why they're playing kids in what position (that's they're call; they know a lot more about it than parents do), etc. I'm sure that the coaches wouldn't tolerate, nor should they have to.

Look, that's not to say that other travel sports are deficient because parents are involved. I don't want to indict a whole universe, but I do think it's better in competitive situations to have non-parents coach kids to be sure that the situation is a meritocracy. Otherwise, the team dynamic will falter, because coaches get put between the other parents, their own kids, their spouses and their families if their kids are on the team. There are many dedicated coaches who are determined to field the best lineups, even if their kids sit. But I'm not sure how many there really are, and whether that number is a majority or not. What I do know is that there seems to be much less angst when well-qualified, respected neutral parties run the show. Lobbying the coaches is just not an acceptable alternative.

I'm grateful to these coaches for taking the time to teach and coach these kids. They have their own lives and their own families, but they love the game and want to enrich others through their efforts. That's commendable and noble, and the parents very much appreciate it. So, if you're one of those coaches, here's a tip of the cap to you -- thanks for doing what you do. And, if you're a travel coach who sometimes gets tempted to run something other than a meritocracy, ask yourself this question when temptation rears its ugly head -- "am I fielding the best team possible if I do that?" If the answer is no, set the right expectations for your parents, run the team fairly and without regard to politics, and the team will practice harder and play better -- because no one at 14 or 16 should be guaranteed a spot without earning it. Show me someone who is, and I'll show you a kid and family who might yield to the excesses of entitlement, with the result that the player doesn't reach his or her potential because he/she doesn't get pushed. And I'll show you a team dynamic that is filled with resentment and disappointment. And I'll probably show you a team that doesn't win nearly as much as it thinks it should.

Volunteering, coaching and teaching are a great thing combined. We all know that. Let's just make sure that when we volunteer, we're teaching everyone -- the kids and the parents -- the right lessons.


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