As the end of the flag football season is winding down, I find myself reflecting on sports and competition in general. Winning is fun. I admit it. As I have gotten older and wiser, I have come to realize that whatever the score of something ends up being is but a small part of the big picture. I am a competitive person. Again, I admit it. When I played competitive sports when I was younger I was quite intense. As an athlete, whether it was high school sports or college intramurals, I was in it to win it. I have been on teams ever since I can remember. It is in my genes. My dad was a professional baseball player in the US and in Japan for a time. We all love pretty much everything about sports. My own kids also were the lucky recipients of this gene. This is the main reason that now, as my competitive days have wound down, I still am able to get a taste of the thrill of competition.
I have coached many of my boys’ baseball, soccer and flag football teams over the years. Sometimes as an assistant, but usually as the head coach. I have coached many age groups and too many kids to count. I can say that for every lesson I have tried to teach my team, they have taught me many more. This seems to happen regardless of whether or not our season is perfect or without much success on the scoreboard. As a “mom” coach, I know that I have many obstacles to overcome before my team even plays a single game.
The funny thing is that most of the challenges in perception I face are not from my team. They usually are from the parents, the other coaches or administrators of whatever league it may be. This is part of what motivates me to coach. I love proving people wrong or exceeding their initial expectations. This season I was the only female coach in the entire league of 16 teams. On evaluation day at least two of my male counterparts made a point to approach me to let me know that “I would get the hang of things pretty fast.” I thanked them and then let them know that this was not my first rodeo. I was also the only coach to choose two girls for my team because as we all know chicks rule.
I am in no way an intense, yelling at the kids’ kind of coach. Which is surprising to some given my competitive nature. Sometimes I do yell things to them, but it is only so they can hear what I am saying from across the field. Before each season, I meet with the parents and the kids to introduce myself and to explain how I do things. The first thing I say is that I am not interested in whether we win or lose. Most usually stare at me like I have three heads. There is a method to my coaching madness and to date is has worked out pretty well. Of course I care if we win or lose, but winning or losing is not the goal when coaching kids sports.
I explain that what I care about is how they interact with one another and how they treat the other team. I explain that I am concerned with them learning something about the game and that they have fun. I suspect that is usually when the hardcore parents are secretly wishing that their child had been placed on another team. I let them know that I have three rules. First, when I talk no one else does. Number two is that they always try their best. My third rule is that we treat each other kindly. Those are my rules. They seem soft, I know, but this is the foundation that I choose to set up.
This season has been a huge success and not just because we have made it to the championship game. Also part of my way is the fact that I name our plays after fruit. Did I mention I like having fun? They seemed to catch on to this highly advanced system of play calling. Sometimes it worked, other times not so much. We have had our ups and downs on the scoreboard all season. There were games when I seriously thought that my kids’ brains had slipped right out of their skulls in the parking lot. There were practices when I would come home and count the weeks until this was over. I would walk in the house looking like I had just tried to herd a million cattle into a matchbox. It happens.
We have had thrilling victories. We won our first game of the season by a fairly large margin. They were ecstatic. I congratulated them on their first win. I then reminded them that humility was best. I also pointed out that everyone is a good sport when you win games and that the real test of a team is how they behave when they lose. The next week we were trounced on by the other team. They may have been disappointed but I could not detect one ounce of poor sport in any of them because we lost. We moved on to the next game. This is how we rolled.
I had a wonderful moment today after our playoff win. Did I mention I like to win? We beat a team that had beaten us twice, by a lot, in the regular season. We were focused, but had so much fun at the same time. The kids played their best game. They all contributed and I am still so proud of them hours later. As I cleaned out the trunk of my car, the realization came to me that not once this season did I have to remind the kids that we were a team and one of our team rules was kindness. This is practically a miracle as most 9-11 year olds have a very low threshold for frustration, especially when competing.
There was not a single instance that I witnessed where one of my team members broke the kindness rule with another when they made a mistake or dropped a ball or thought the play was apple instead of pear. To me, this stat is the only one I really care about. There is no money to be had or even bragging rights at the end of it all. This season was about a great group of kids who hopefully learned something about a sport and maybe even something about how doing the right thing will always be a winning move.
Whether we end the season with a win or a loss really does not matter to me. I consider it a great privilege to have had the opportunity to teach kids not only how to throw or catch a ball but to also help them learn the importance of being kind, respectful and understanding of one another. It is my hope that these kids had a good time and enjoyed the time that they spent on my team. I really did enjoy this season and I am thankful for the things that my team taught me along the way. Go Wolverines!