Coaching pee wee football is currently my favorite thing to do.
I have been assigned a group of 5th and 6th graders in a league at Saltillo, and we’ve notched two division wins so far in 2013 against only a single, out-of-division road loss at Tishomingo County (5th and 6th graders are still fed on cornbread in Tish County).
My 10 year old son Maddux plays quarterback, flanker and outside linebacker … with gusto and confidence. He almost perfectly reflects what I look for in a player. He studies the game, he plays in the yard every day, he is aggressive far beyond what his 85-pound frame suggests he should be, and he has talent enough to succeed. He has already run for, thrown for and caught multiple touchdowns, and if he doesn’t lead our team in tackles, he’s close. I’m very proud of him. You probably picked up on that.
But beyond being able to spend time with my youngest child, I just generally like coaching. To see a group of varied and unique individuals come together for a common purpose is satisfying in itself. To have that group be successful is more. To gather up a team from a “park league” environment – always a hodgepodge of budding athletes, non-athletes, and those who are frankly unclassifiable – and somehow win football games is the ultimate.
Park leagues take all comers. If your child wants to play football or baseball or soccer, you simply go fill out a registration form and pay a fee. Soon, your offspring will be roaming a field at the W.K. Webb Sportsplex in Saltillo, in Baldwyn’s Latimer Park or in some other municipal venue. It’s a great community service. Kids need it.
Sports teach things that you don’t get anywhere else.
Wanting something does not guarantee you will get it.
A good friend off the field, where life sails along smoothly, is not necessarily the guy you want with you in a conflict.
Sometimes you can pick your battles, but sometimes they pick you.
When you get knocked down, the proper response is not to cry, but to get up.
How to win with grace (if you have a good coach).
How to lose with dignity (if you have a good coach).
Learning is not confined to the players. I contend that it is impossible for even coaches, at least open-minded ones, to go through a season without gaining new insights. If nothing else they will get to know the kids who play for them.
Football is a loosely-controlled, physical battle for the acquisition of territory, and the bodily stress of such a demanding sport reveals what a person is made of. Over the course of a single football season, a coach will likely learn more of a person’s true nature than a classroom teacher will see through years of instruction.
Now, the parents on the sidelines are the real hard-cases. It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Mom’s and Dad’s protective parental instincts almost always override visual evidence, sometimes comically so.
If you don’t realize why that’s funny, don’t fret.
I was games director at a children’s church camp a couple years ago, and I mapped out an elaborate schedule of games for 1st through 6th graders. Each group of boys and girls would go through “stations,” where an assigned camp leader would manage their activity. While Group A was playing Noodle Hockey on the softball field, Group C would be playing Frisbee Golf along the hiking trail, and so on. One of the stations I set up was Ping Pong.
I assumed that playing Ping Pong – table tennis – was universal. Generations of my extended family had long battled in pursuit of made-up “championship belts” in my parents’ carport. The competition was always intense. My son Gabe and his cousin Grant garnered reputations as paddle-throwers. My brother Clay and I broke many a table by diving on top of it, trying to prevent some cousin’s game-winning point. Even my mother would join in on occasion before finally, intentionally losing to some pre-teen family member, who none of the rest of us would let win.
At church camp, the deacon’s wife I had assigned to Ping Pong duty came to me holding her score sheets.
“I’ve got this ‘Ping Pong’ thing, Clark. How do you play that?”
In response to the stunned look on my face, she continued.
“Now, Clark, you know we are not ‘athletes’ at our house. We’re readers.”
Maybe it goes without saying. Maybe it doesn’t. But I do not consider Ping Pong an “athletic” endeavor.
However, I do very much appreciate “readers.” I have a few playing for the Broncos.
But when they button on their chinstraps and jog onto the field next Saturday to take on Marietta, they’ll be football players.