Question: I’m a mom, and I don’t know much about sports. Everywhere I go, I see mostly men in charge. I’d like to try to coach, but I’m not all that confident. I don’t know if I’d be good at it.
Discussion: Becoming a youth coach is not as complicated as it would seem. Yes, it’s still primarily a male dominated world, and that may give you pause, but the men you see patrolling the sidelines—clipboards in hand—come from a very mixed bag of sporting backgrounds and successes. What we are politely saying here is that we men can sometimes seem just a little bit more confident than we are competent—not big news to our female readers. You have as much of a right to be coaching kids as any man does. If you enjoy teaching, are semi-organized, and have passion, dedication, and a willingness to learn new things, you are an ideal candidate.
Solution: At Whole Child Sports we believe women are the single greatest underutilized resource in youth sports today. At a time when we clearly need to break the traditional mold of ego-dominated, command-oriented youth sports, a massive influx of eager, dynamic, dedicated female coaches could really help change the way millions of kids experience sports.
In her comprehensive book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, Brooke de Lench lists nine reasons why women have the right values for youth sports:
1. Women are natural teachers.
2. Women tend to be less authoritarian leaders.
3. Women are natural nurturers.
4. Women tend to want to !nd balance between competition and cooperation.
5. Women care about all children, not just their own.
6. Mothers want to protect children from the pressures of the adult world.
7. Women are safety conscious and risk averse.
8. Women are good at teaching boys healthy masculinity.
9. Women coaches are role models for girls and can teach them to celebrate being female athletes.
As a woman and a mother, you have a great deal more to contribute to your children’s sports experience than scheduling, carpooling, preparing snacks, and cheering from the sidelines. We know this is obvious, but it still bears mentioning. You can imbue your coaching style with sensitivity to your players’ physical and emotional needs, teach them with age-appropriate rather than command-driven attitudes, and nudge them along while shielding them from the soul-damaging focus on winning at all costs that permeates the youth sports system today.
A Mom: A First-Time Coach
Even in the virtually all-male bastion of youth football, women can have a resounding impact at the helm. Consider Xiomara. A thirty-five-year-old divorced mother of two boys, ages six and eight, Xiomara was rooting for Jordan, her eldest, from the sidelines at the start of one football season. Then the team coach dropped out unexpectedly, and she was asked to step in and co-coach with one of the fathers. As the only female coach in her league, Xiomara turned heads. “The opposing coaches thought I was a mommy helper. When they saw me on the field in the huddle with the kids, they did a double take.” But that didn’t faze her.
“I jumped right in and took the coaching course,” she says. “I read everything I could get my hands on.” The hardest part for Xiomara, a Yonkers, New York, police officer, was learning to read plays and figure out how her offense and defense should execute them. “That was frustrating,” she admits, “but I picked it up as the weeks went by.” Whenever she didn’t understand something, she asked someone. “The other coaches were really helpful,” she says, “though I did get teased a little bit when they saw me carrying my copy of Coaching for Dummies everywhere I went.”
Xiomara learned everything from the ground up: getting into a stance, positioning in form tackling, and blocking. Once she understood it well enough, she taught her charges. As one parent pointed out, “Other volunteer coaches might think they know the fundamentals, but they don’t necessarily. Because Xiomara was starting from zero and didn’t have an inflated ego, she learned how to do it right and taught her players well.”
Another positive: She communicated well with her boys. “I made sure to repeat myself often when I was going over the fundamentals,” she says. “I had to remind the other coaches, ‘These are eight-year-olds. They forget.’ With their nerves, energy, and excitement, you have to tell them over and over.” In the huddle and on the sidelines during games, she’d review the basics again and again. “That was important to me,” she says. “Keeping the kids safe. We had no major injuries.” The other coaches followed her example.
She nurtured her players and was careful to consider them as individuals. “There were a few boys I figured wouldn’t last a week,” she says. “I knew they couldn’t handle being corrected in public. So I’d whisper in their ears, ‘You’re doing great. Just keep in mind you have to keep your head up. Keep your eyes up. I don’t want you to get hurt.’ At the end I fell in love with each and every one of them and was so happy they’d stuck with it.”
As the days grew shorter and colder, Xiomara noticed that some kids didn’t show up at practice and games with warm enough clothing, so she’d bring extra sweatshirts and put them on her players. “The other coaches would look at me like, ‘Really?’ And I’d say, ‘Keep your mouth shut!’” Hard-nosed old-schoolers might shake their heads, but mommy coach was a big hit. “They came up to me at the awards assembly and said, ‘Thank you, Coach, for all the little things you did for us.’ It just warmed my heart.” But perhaps Xiomara’s finest endorsement came from her own son. “I asked, ‘Do you want Mommy to coach you next year?’ And Jordan replied, ‘Yes.’”
Inspired by her experience on the gridiron, Xiomara has now signed up to coach another sport she’s never played: basketball. We hope more mommies will follow. ♦
From Kim John Payne, Luis Fernando Llosa, & Scott Lancaster. Beyond Winnning: Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment (Lyons Press, Connecticut).