About a year and a half ago, I had some down time at work and found myself in conversation with a colleague about our sons, roughly around the same age. Both boys were playing t-ball and she was coaching her son’s team. She was explaining how challenging it was to be the only mom volunteering to coach baseball and how uncomfortable she felt at the training meeting, being the only woman among a gym full of men.
It was at that moment, as she was speaking, that I questioned (out loud mind you) why I hadn’t even considered coaching. My son had played soccer two seasons and this was the second year of t-ball and for each sport my husband had coached. I had sat on the sidelines with my daughter cheering on the boys. Me… a feminist and an athlete my entire life. I grew up playing sports, in fact I was a three season athlete, state level competitor, and I still run (fast) in races 2-3 times a year. So, why hadn’t coaching ever crossed my mind? Why had I immediately default to being the supportive wife to my husband, the coach?
Once the thought of coaching entered my mind, I really couldn’t shake it. As I thought more about it, there were a bunch of reasons not to coach, many of the same reasons that colleague had expressed to me. When I looked around the playing fields, there weren’t many, if any, women coaching their kid’s youth teams. In fact, less than 20% of youth sports coaches are women. Did I really want to be that woman? Did I want to take on another volunteer commitment in addition to being a full time mom, employee, and wife? It seemed much easier to just sit along the sidelines, iPhone in hand, humoring my daughter, taking pictures, and engaging in occasional conversation, than to stand up in front of everyone and coach a group of children. But what would that show my kids? What would that teach them about their mom as compared to their dad?
Which leads me to another thought I just couldn’t shake– that of my upbringing. You see, I was taught by my parents that I could be anything I wanted to be, a point driven home time and again by my mom. And, my dad was a PE teacher and spent every fall and spring volunteering as referee and umpire for my brother, sister, and my games as we played youth sports. He also came to practically every sporting event we ever did and taught us the importance of playing fair, giving back, and ensuring that all children are engaged in healthy competition and learning to love sports. So, I sort of new that I had it in me. I’ve also worked with children in a variety of capacities, as a mom (obviously), a babysitter, camp activities coordinator, and counselor. The list of reasons why I should coach began to far exceed the reasons I should not.
So, I decided I would ease into this coaching thing with my three year old daughter. We planned to have her play YMCA basketball. 3 & 4 years olds seemed like less of a jump pressure wise as did my coaching my daughter. Although challenging to type because I wish I didn’t feel this way, I had a lot of apprehension about coaching my son. First of all, my husband really enjoys coaching too, so I didn’t want to take that bonding experience away from them. But in all honesty, my bigger source of apprehension came from this nagging feeling that it was more culturally acceptable for a mom to coach her daughter than her son and I didn’t know if I had it in me to challenge gendered barriers in both my work and on the weekend.
I talked it over with with my husband, who, by this point totally gets me and although he may not agree with all of my feminist endeavors, was wholeheartedly supportive of my interest to coach our children. We decided he would keep baseball because he loves that sport and loves coaching our son but that come the fall, I would coach my son and he would coach my daughter in soccer. Which brings me to today. I’m coaching my son’s 5-7 co-ed youth soccer team. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about doing it, because I was. I was actually a nervous wreck. To alleviate my fears I reached out to my dad who ended up buying, highlighting, and sending me a book with activities to do with the kids at practice. I also took a lot of deep breaths and attempted to get out of my own head.
When all is said and done, they’re kids, who want to have fun and if they learn a few basics about the game of soccer, some good sportsman/woman’s ship, and have a snack or two, then its going to be a great season. And so far, so great. I have a wonderful assistant coach, also a woman, and we’re rocking it. I do owe my dad one more shout-out, however, for teaching me the importance of a confident handshake and strong eye contact. That way, when the coaches on the other team assume my husband is the head coach, I can quickly clear it up without the least bit of awkwardness. And once again I’m amazed by this craziness we call parenting and so thankful that it’s given me the opportunity to practice what I preach.