By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck LLC
I’ve coached dozens of teams and hundreds of kids. I’m pretty comfortable being “The Coach.” But today I was thinking about the average volunteer who may only be coaching because no one else was willing to do it. I thought it might be useful if some of the parents who don’t volunteer their time, but are quick to criticize those who do, could see things from the coach’s perspective. So what is written below is a letter to those parents from a volunteer coach who could be anywhere, coaching any sport:
Today I heard a comment made about me behind my back. I started to turn around and look, but then decided better of it and kept my eyes on the field. My wife hears things like this more often than I do, because many of you don’t know who she is. She tells me what you say. I have received angry emails, full of “suggestions,” about who should be playing where and how I lost that day’s game for the kids. I thought I’d write an open letter to all of you parents, even though I might never send it. I’ll start it this way: “I am a volunteer.”
I’m the one who answered the call when the league said they didn’t have enough coaches. I understand that you were too busy. I have some news for you. I’m not retired. I’m busy too. I have other children and a job, just like you do. Not only do I not get paid to do this – it costs me money. I see you walk up to the game 15 minutes after it started, still dressed for work. Do you know I’ve already been here over an hour? Imagine if you had to leave work early nearly every day. I’ve never seen you at a practice. I’m sure you’re plugging away at the office. But I’m out here, on the field, trying my best to teach these children how to play a sport they love, while my bank account suffers.
I know. I make mistakes. In fact, maybe I’m not even that great of a coach. But I treat the kids fairly and with respect. I am pretty sure they like coming to my practices and games, and without me or someone like me, there’d be no team for them to play on. I’m part of this community too and it’s no picnic being out here on this stage like this. It’s a lot easier back there with the other parents where no one is second-guessing you.
And I also know you think I give my son or daughter unfair advantages. I try not to. In fact, have you ever considered that maybe I’m harder on him than on the others? I’m sure he hears plenty of criticism at school from classmates, who hear it from you at home, about what a terrible coach I am. And if, even unconsciously, my kids are getting a slight advantage because I know them better and trust their abilities, is that the worst thing in the world, considering the sacrifice I’m making? Trust me, I want to win too. And if your son or daughter could guarantee we’d do that, I’d give them the chance.
After this game is over, I’ll be the last one to leave. I have to break down the field, put away all the equipment and make sure everyone has had a parent arrive to pick them up. There have been evenings when my son and I waited with a player until after dark before someone came to get them. Many nights I’m sure you’ve already had dinner and are relaxing on the couch by the time I finally kick the mud off my shoes and climb into my car, which hasn’t been washed or vacuumed for weeks. Why bother cleaning it during the season? Do you know how nice it would be if, just once, after a game one of you offered to carry the heavy gear bag to my car or help straighten up the field?
If I sound angry, I’m not. I do this because I love it and I love being around the kids. There are plenty of rewards and I remind myself that while you’re at the office working, your kid is saying something that makes us all laugh or brings a tear to my eye. The positives outweigh the negatives. I just wish sometime those who don’t choose to volunteer their time would leave the coaching to the few of us who do.
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.