Last month, I sat in the stands behind home plate, and watched my 8½-year-old son take the field. It was probably the 100th game of his youth-baseball career; it was my first as spectator. Up until then, I’d been his coach. But it was time. It was definitely time to not be his coach.
My coaching career began by accident: In the spring semester of his kindergarten year, I signed my son up to play T-ball. A few weeks later, I got a call from a league representative, congratulating my husband on being approved to coach. I didn’t, I said. I signed up, and actually, I signed up to help coach.
The league representative said that was fine. You (meaning me) can have the team. I’ve never played, really, I said. Certainly never coached. This, I was assured, was not a problem.
And it wasn’t. Much to my surprise, I liked coaching. A lot. I was hooked the first time I lobbed a pitch to one of my players, and he connected, and broke into a slow-motion smile as he ran to first base. Outside of chalking the lines, I liked everything about the experience, from the rituals to the accomplishments, big and small. Most of all, I enjoyed driving to the weeknight games with my son, and eating packed dinners in the car afterward. They were good times.
Writing this now, I realize I’ve used “I” a lot, and therein can lie everything that’s arguably wrong with youth sports: The grown-up who makes it all about herself. I (there’s that pronoun again) really did attempt to check my enthusiasm, or at least acknowledge that my enthusiasm may not necessarily match my son’s. When spring came around again, I asked my son if he wanted to do T-ball again. The same child who vetoed a second season of soccer said yes. Did he want me to coach again? Yes.
And on and on this dance went. By this past spring, my son was in his last season of 8-and-under kid-pitch, and I was in my sixth session as his coach. We’d gone through highs and lows together, almost none of them related to any game’s final score. (I agonized over every final score, but that’s because I’m the aforementioned self-involved grown-up. He didn’t.)
The lows: the practices where he accused me of striking him out (“On purpose!”); the games where he gave me the “What gives?” look when I sought to reposition him in the field; the inning where he spiked the ball rather than handing it to me during a mound visit or the resulting instances where I benched him, docked him screen time or ordered him to write letters of apology. (The one time he offered an apology of his own accord? This classic humblebrag: “Guys, I’m sorry my two home runs weren’t enough to win us the ballgame.”)
The highs, to be honest, were fewer. While I thoroughly enjoyed coaching teams as wholes, I didn’t thoroughly enjoy coaching my son as an individual. I couldn’t ever really enjoy his on-the-field accomplishments: Either I wanted to maintain objectivity, or I wanted him to act like all the other little angels. Now, were my teams really full of little angels? Probably not. The kids just seemed like little angels compared to my son, who was a terror in size-2 cleats.
I’m a slow learner. This spring that I accepted the problem might be me. Outside of my dugout, after all, the kid wasn’t a problem No discipline slips sent home from school. No benchings for bad behavior on the basketball team coached by two parents, neither of whom were his. He was just one of those kids who couldn’t handle being the coach’s son. He didn’t want to share me, he didn’t want to listen to me—and he didn’t want to tell me to take a seat in the stands because he either didn’t want to hurt my feelings (unlikely, but plausible, I suppose) or he didn’t have the awareness to say so.
So that’s his excuse. I don’t know what mine was. From the second T-ball season on, my husband recognized the trend line, and told me our son needed a new coach. But I resisted. I was having fun. And that’s the important thing — that I have fun, right?
A few months ago, my son was invited to play on a baseball team for which I would be required to do nothing but play the supportive parent. Before his first game with this new unit, I reminded him to do as the coach says. For once, he listened. Or maybe it was that for once he didn’t have to listen to me. Either way, I got to see a great kid play a game. Finally.