The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 16, 2006

Features

Coach dads make every day Father's Day

At the end of practice, Bob Simonton shares "high fives" with his soccer-playing kindergartners. (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

Complaining about the rainy spring? Take a moment to pity the poor coaches. "This is a coach's nightmare," says Concord Carlisle Youth Soccer (CCYS) travel director Bob Simonton. "It's been a tough spring, that's for sure." Baseball coach Hal Charnley says it may take as much as an hour and a half to reschedule a game "by the time you coordinate with the other team, line up an umpire and field, and check with players who can and who can't play." Multiply that times the half-dozen or so games that have been rained out this season, and it's a big time sink. "But that's why we make the big bucks," he laughs.

Needless to say, he is kidding. Every fall and spring week throughout Carlisle, dozens of dads devote hours upon hours to organizing, training, and coaching kids teams. And though many of these dads are used to collecting decent paychecks for their time, the time they spend coaching is without any monetary compensation.

Chad Koski, in addition to previous coaching, now leads his son's first- grade baseball and his daughter's U10 soccer team with a commitment of five games or practices per week. Charnley has coached soccer and currently coaches baseball, while Simonton, in addition to organizing soccer travel teams, finding coaches, and overseeing training, coached his sons' teams for ten years and currently coaches his kindergarten daughter's team. Rick Amodei is baseball age director for 11- and 12-year-olds, coach of his son's baseball and his daughter's softball team, and also a soccer assistant coach. How many hours does it involve? "Far too many," he admits, "particularly if you talk to my wife."

Dads have fun

Coach Hal Charnley (center) and his Concord Carlisle Youth Baseball team prepare for their playoff game on Tuesday. (Photo by Cecile Sandwen) (Photo by Cecile Sandwen)

So why do it? "Because you're nuts?" suggests Koski. But, really, dads just want to have fun. "I love it," Koski adds. "I wish I could do it full time." "It's a lot of fun for me," says Charnley. "There's a lot of pleasure in watching kids grow, gain confidence, and have fun." "It's a little bit addictive," admits Amodei. "Being involved with kids, you can't help but have a good time."

Simonton says many dads who coach "have a lot of fond memories of playing sports; the learning experience, being part of a team, the competition. It's an important part of life." Charnley agrees, "My dad coached my baseball team" and he wants to spend time with his son and get to know his friends, "which is more important as they get older." Says Amodei, "In five to ten years, my kids will look back. If I have the opportunity to be with them and provide good memories, it's worth every minute."

With girls, teamwork happens

These coaches are versatile — coaching boys and girls, kindergartners and middle schoolers. They say the girl-boy difference at young ages is not huge. "The girls are just as competitive, says Koski. "They want to win, play and learn." Simonton agrees girls and boys are similar, but "young boys are 'me, me, me.' Girls are more aware of the team environment and the need to pass the ball. They also take into account the feelings of other players." Amodei echos his points. "Girls work as a team more naturally, in baseball, and soccer too. Boys want to have the ball and will all converge on it. With the girls, teamwork happens faster."

Bob Simonton knows that a kindergarten soccer coach's duties include shoe-tying. (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

Of course there are huge differences in coaching the different ages, and all agree there's something special about watching five- and six-year olds just beginning to test their athletic mettle. Koski says pitching to his kindergartners is "like throwing darts at the bat. Then you have to point to first base." He loves the fact that at this age, "they're just out there having fun — some are intense, some are chasing butterflies." But he also enjoys his older teams, "They know the basics and can get into strategies." He adds, "It's fun watching kids improve," from not being able to find the bases to "by fourth grade making plays, and by fifth making double plays. At all ages, the challenge is to boost the confidence of the kids who need that."

Amodei says of his kindergarten and first graders, "It's a great age to be coaching" even if you have kids "making sand piles out in the field." He points out his team includes a broad group of kids, and of 51 boys in his son's school grade, 48 played farm-team baseball. "They certainly all want to be in it." He particularly loves working with the kid who is "struggling, not the best player, but working hard, trying to fit in. It's very rewarding to see a child achieve a milestone — the look on their face. . ." He recalls kids who, after several misses, finally caught a fly ball, and a pitcher who was able to finish an inning after several failed attempts, "It just lit him up."

Keeping teens involved

Coaching his older son's team of twelve-year-olds is "a different type of reward," says Amodei. His background is South American, and he rarely played baseball as a child, so has had to "step up my coaching level" as his son has become "very emotionally involved" in baseball. But at the older levels "you see their innocence go" as skilled players excel and others drop out. When his son's team goes from playing on the 60-foot field to a 90-foot diamond next year, "some friends are not going to make that jump" and though Amodei has "worked hard to get all involved and participation high," he is disappointed that participation in his son's age group will drop dramatically next year. He adds, "It will diminish the social element, and make it more of an activity to excel at while connecting with friends elsewhere."

Simonton is also concerned with the drop in sports participation in the early teens. From the soccer side, he sees pressure from parents as a contributor. "Some parents have unrealistic expections of their child, and see them at a different level than they really are. If they don't make the A team, they see it as real slap." He suggests parents take a different attitude. "Be in tune with where your child is. Say, 'You'll have a great time with a great team.' Then the kid doesn't come in with a negative attitude."

Amodei thinks a solution may be to provide a place for kids to play without adults. "We're losing out as a community because we don't have the structure for kids just to go out and play ball." He adds, "What's needed is a place for middle school kids to hang out, with fields," but adds resignedly, "That's not going to happen." He praises the Carlisle School JV baseball and basketball for including everyone. "Those are really good programs — everyone shows up and plays."

Over-aggressiveness overplayed

Surprisingly perhaps, given what you read about over-aggressive, competitive parents, these coaches rarely experience it. "Fortunately I've never had any [aggressive parents]," says Charnley, although he hears stories from friends coaching in other towns. "Maybe because it's a small town and I know all the parents. That's helpful." Says Koski, "You certainly run into it — competitive parents and coaches," but "I don't get too uptight. I just say 'coaches' decision'" and so far that has settled it. Amodei agrees, "There are parents [like that] but nowhere near what's seen in other communities." And as for over-competitive coaches, "we've had a couple of administrative actions, but they are few and far between."

"It's the joy of my job that that kind of thing is really the exception," says Simonton of aggressive parents. And regarding coaches, "People who volunteer are a certain type. They like to spend time with their kids, they like kids, they like competition but also fun. Very rarely does someone not fit that mold." The soccer program requires training which includes "being positive and not over-scripting play" as well as the coach's responsibility for keeping parents from harassing the referee or making negative comments. Simonton believes the travel teams provide "good balance, a more competitive level of play, but not high pressure."

Challenges exist

What Simonton sees as coaching's biggest challenge is "a parent with different expectations than the coach" if the coach's goals are fun and exercise and the parent "expects their kid will become a World Cup player or get a college scholarship." Amodei sees pushy parents on the baseball side as well, but admits, "I've probably done it myself. It's tough to step back."

Other challenges include coaching your own kid. "The worst is pulling your own child off the pitcher's mound. That's painful," says Amodei. Also difficult is watching a kid struggle. "Baseball is a tough mental game. Hitting a ball isn't that easy, especially with a game on the line." Even good athletes can choke under the circumstances.

Another challenge, Charnley adds, is "dealing with mixed skills and coaching everyone at their level. It's difficult maintaining competition while giving everyone a chance; a real delicate balance figuring our where everybody can contribute the most."

Another frustration is "last minute a kid can't make a game. Parents don't know how much work that makes, changing line ups, and possibly canceling and rescheduling."

And then there's the rain. "It's a nightmare," says Amodei. "I hope the sun will shine on the last week and we can finish off strong and remember the sunshine."

Fear of coaching deters parents

So given the challenges, is it difficult to recruit coaches? "No it really isn't," says Simonton of the soccer program. "We have a great volunteer group willing to put in time and effort. Most gratifying is the number willing to spend extra time on certification and training to improve their skills and bring the best to the kids."

But Simonton fears that many parents miss an opportunity because they discount their ability to coach. "In soccer, parents feel they don't know enough because most didn't play as kids." Although he himself was a goalkeeper with University of Virginia and came to coaching with "a love of the game," he encourages parents without soccer experience to step forward. "A coach is a coach is a coach. We give you the training and certification to get into the swing." He adds, "Most coaches in a season or two are very comfortable. It's very gratifying to watch."

Regarding baseball coaching, Amodei says the difficult of recruiting "depends on the league. Sometimes there are too many." But he also agrees that "lots of parents are missing out because they don't feel they know the sport." He says an ability to organize kids and get them to work as a team is the most important qualification at the level of AA and below. At higher levels "It would be tough to step in without any experience as a head coach. Soccer (CCYS) does a dynamite job training coaches. That's weak on the baseball side." Although there are training clinics and workshops, much is self-taught and "there's a lot of baseball experience in town. Most coaches played on teams when they were kids." Many coaches start by assisting, and Amodei uses himself as an example of someone without a background in baseball (his sports were soccer and tennis) who "started as the administrative end (of a coaching team) and acquired the baseball side."

Just go for it

So any advice to someone considering coaching? Coach Koski counsels patience "with the kid picking daisies, or kicking the ball into the wrong goal. Remember you're there for the kids." He adds, "Keep them coming back. When everyone on the team signs up to play again, I know I've done my job." Coach Charnley says, "Find a balance. At the end of the day, it should be fun for everyone. As long as you don't treat it like the World Series, everyone should have a good time."

Amodei wants more parents to participate. "The organization is great, the coaches are top notch. I suggest to anybody to ask about coaching or assisting." He adds, "It's very rewarding. The likelihood is minute you'll produce a pro. But you're providing your kids and their friends with good memories, social skills, sportsmanship, and teamwork." Adds Simonton, "It's one of the most rewarding things I do. It's a chance to really make an impression on kids' lives. Competition, fitness, team work, how to win and lose — those are life lessons that go way beyond sports."

"Go for it," he urges parents. "There's a hundred reasons not to do it — you don't know enough, you don't have time. Just get into it and you'll love it!


2006 The Carlisle Mosquito