Confessions of a coach-mom

Some of us end up coaching youth sports because we have a passion for the sport of choice. Some of us think it sounds like a really cool way to spend more time with our kid — or we get roped in by a fellow parent. 

And many us naively check the box that comes up during online registration that says, “Feel free to contact me about volunteer opportunities.”

Hear me now. That box isn’t a sign-up for granola bars and Gatorade. It’s a sign-your-name-in-blood pledge to be a coach — maybe even Head Coach. 

If you say: “I’d rather watch from the stands, but if you find yourself short — and need an extra coach — let me know,” is as good as, “I’m in!” 

They will always need you. Always. 

Honestly, it’s a lot

Every team is different. And every coach is different, too.

I’d co-coached soccer for a season here and there when my kids were really little — once because I wanted to, and once because a friend wanted me to do it with her. It was pretty low-key and I had fun getting out there in the fresh air. 

Last summer, however, I — having expressed that precarious willingness to volunteer — found myself coaching both 10U baseball and girls 12U soccer simultaneously, while also walking that “blessed” — and also stressed — walk of a work-from-home summer parent. 

It was GREAT exercise. It was fun and kept me fully engaged during my kids’ games. 

And it was A LOT. 

My little city car was always full of equipment. At night, after work and practice and summer folly, I often had emails from team parents to answer. If my kid skipped a game or practice for a birthday party or camp, I was still obligated to be there for the team. 

Still, it was a personal growth experience. I found I was an organizational coach (I was REALLY fond of my clipboard) as well as a nurturer: “Honey, I think you need an ice pack.” 

I learned how to not play favorites (even though my kids are naturally my favorites) and pushed myself to physically keep up with some seriously intense, tween-girl soccer players. 

Double duty

While I learned how I could best succeed as a coach, I also had to shift gears, day to day, from two very different teams — and dissimilar groups of kids. 

My baseball team was a little bit Bad News Bears — all boys except one brave girl — with developing skills sets, barely developing listening skills, a profound adoration of potty humor and a tendency to be hard on themselves. They were hilarious and entertaining and challenging and exhausting. 

My girls’ soccer team was well-behaved and focused, intensely physical and determined. My challenge with them was getting them to lighten up, accept a bit of rest now and then and, of course, run booboo patrol when things got too rough on the field — an elbow to a nose, broken glasses, sprained fingers. 

Walking the line 

Compared to other dynamics I’ve seen — and stories I’ve heard — my kids were pretty good about not exploiting my role as their coach. They didn’t scoff at my decisions often, seemed to appreciate my presence and didn’t expect special treatment. 

My daughter maybe distracted me a bit — hanging out by my side and chatting when she was on the sidelines — but we worked it out. 

Both kids tested my patience briefly with position requests off the field, at home, when I was already in the mom zone. My daughter didn’t want to take her turn as goalie. 

“Nope, sorry,” I said. “Everyone has to.”

My son once bossily interrogated me about why he didn’t get to play second base while I was trying to decompress with a bubble bath. 

“Would you waltz into one of the other coaches’ bathrooms while THEY were taking a bath?” I asked.  

The toughest part about the coach-mom dynamic was showing fairness. I had to tone down the “my kid rocks” celebration a few notches and show equal enthusiasm for every member of the team. And it wasn’t easy, I’ll admit, to not give in to what I knew they wanted. 

As parents, we want them to be happy and comfortable. As a coach, you must make sure everyone does their part and has a chance to enjoy the most highly coveted spots.

Do you need to be sporty?

Not really. But it doesn’t hurt. 

When the kids are younger, coaching is more about herding, redirecting and driving home the idea that sports are fun. 

Now that my daughter’s in middle school, I’ve probably now phased myself out of coaching her soccer team. 

I could do it, but they’re better off with someone who’s better at soccer skills and strategy. I’ve kept up until now, but it was never my sport. 

Considering coaching hockey?

In Minnesota, that’s a beast of a different nature — and I salute you. More practices, more games, more equipment.

You’ll be tying a lot of skates. You should probably know how to skate. (But, if you’re a hockey person, you probably know this.) 

All in all, just be yourself. Be exactly what you naturally bring to the table. Whether that be a clipboard, ice packs, the secret to the perfect curve ball or yoga moves for conditioning.

Be confident as a coach and the kids will (mostly) follow. Don’t forget to be a good sport and have fun!

Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is the mother of two. She's helped many Twin Cities families in her work as a postpartum doula.