When Mike was 10 years old and having fun playing all the sports, I took a job in New York City. It was a dynamic opportunity with a highly-respected company, but it would require me to live up there during the work week and travel home to suburban Philly on the weekends.
On the list that we all make of pros and cons surrounding the decision, the downsides mostly involved my not being there day-to-day for Mike as he approached maturity, manhood and – come on now, let’s get to the important stuff -- increasing levels of competitiveness on the fields of youth sports play.
As it is with most headstrong males who think there’s nothing they can’t handle, I convinced myself that my terrific relationship with Mike would overcome the most serious misgivings I had. We would communicate effectively over the phone during the week and I would be there for all of Mike’s games on the weekends, including Friday nights, when I would catch the Amtrak train as early as needed to make kick-off, first pitch or opening tip.
What I didn’t realize was that I was terribly guilt-ridden as an away-all-the-time Dad (there was plenty of weekend travel with this job, too). I couldn’t be a coach because there was no way to make that time commitment. Thus, there was nothing that I wouldn’t do to be involved with the coaches, contribute as a volunteer, socialize with the other parents and otherwise ease my uneasy feelings about whether or not I was doing the right thing.
I learned two things:
1. Parental involvement in youth sports can include a lot more than just showing up
2. Guilt is a powerful thing.
• Basketball scoreboard operator – All season long, moms told me that their husbands would wait in the car until just before gametime so that they wouldn’t be recruited to be the volunteer scoreboard operator. Not me. The fact that nobody else wanted to do it was a badge of honor for guilt-ridden me.
Only problem was that for most of the season, I was a work in progress. You see, when Mike would get the ball after a timeout, I was so intent on watching him in action that I would forget to start the clock. A complicating factor – Mike was the point guard.
Invariably, parents from the opposing team would start yelling at me and at the refs about me. If we were winning I would just sheepishly start the clock. If we were losing, I would have to run off some time on the clock, completely embarrassed, in front of the entire gathering of players, coaches and parents.
Worse still, my wife, Kathi would tell everyone in the stands why I hadn’t started the clock and all had a good ‘ol time at my innocent expense.
• Pop Warner Football play-counter – Possibly the most difficult job in all of youth sports. Because football coaches , especially, get carried away with their desire to win these games, they are unfortunately prone to keeping the best players on the field in pursuit of the desired outcome. So, there must be checks and balances to ensure that all players have a fair opportunity and the rule in Mike’s league was that each kid had to be in the game for a minimum of 12 scrimmage plays.
My job – and I salute the hundreds of thousands of others who have fulfilled this role – was to stand on the opposing team sideline and monitor the substitutions to ensure that the coaches were doing the right thing. The role is adversarial, you are surrounded by strangers who want to send your kid home a loser and reliable information is not easy to come by.
It’s sad to say – and scary too – that there are youth football coaches who actually make this difficult by strategically inserting lesser players into the games at the end of the first half or on hopeless third and fourth downs in working their way toward the minimums. I’m not talking about having the best players in at the end of a game, which is acceptable coaching behavior. I’m talking about a genuine effort to manage the substitution of lesser players so that they would not “hurt” the team in the minds of those coaches. This, at the expense of a meaningful experience – like the continuity of several consecutive series – for those usually younger, smaller players.
Forgive the serious interlude. There is nothing cute or funny about it. And those coaches are the ones who should be guilt-ridden.
• Baseball scorebook keeper – Baseball is a complicated game and keeping score in the book is a pain in the neck. The coaches don’t want to do it because it takes constant focus and concentration and they have enough just reminding the kids what to do and getting everyone his or her fair amount of playing time.
So, I loved to keep the book, because it made me an indispensable part of the operation and had me right there on the bench with Mike and his friends during the entire contest. Problem was, I didn’t know the local rules and when I pointed out to one of Mike’s coaches that the other team had substituted for their best players in the second inning but was putting them back in in the fourth, he started asking for more detail, saying that he might protest the game.
Talk about “Sorry I brought it up.” There was no way I was going to be able to track back exactly when players were substituted for. So, I used my power of persuasion to talk him out of such confrontational thinking. After all, I had to catch a train back to New York in less than 14 hours.
What was funny? When Mike and I arrived, I was so excited to be there with him and to be involved in the game that I put the car in park, hopped out, closed the door and wandered over to the field without ever turning off the engine. Three and one-half hours and 1/8th of a tank of gas later, we returned to the car and everyone in the immediate area had another laugh at my expense.
• Snack bar cleanup – There is a chance that I am the only Dad ever to have engaged in the culminating job associated with those wonderful snack bars that populate youth sports fields across our great country – clean up.
The snack bar is typically the domain of the moms. They take control because of their food preparation knowledge and experience and these dedicated women invariably step forward when teams are assigned shifts to keep the forces hydrated and fed and to keep those fundraising dollars flowing.
Guilt-ridden and trying to do more than my part, I volunteered for a closing shift at the Little League field, where greasy cheese fries, grilled hot dogs and hot pretzels are the order of the day. After a long Saturday of non-stop games on three different fields in the complex, I found myself alone with the boss – a paid high school kid nicknamed "Hitler" by the moms because of his authoritarian approach to maximizing the use of the volunteers until the last counter was clean.
While "Hitler" was counting the money, I was on cleanup duty – alone. Now, when I clean up the kitchen at home, I always have Mike or my daughter, Meaghan, to help. But they weren’t there. They were gone. Everyone was gone. The other mom on the closing shift had to go home with her husband and kid because they only had one car. It was getting dark.
Did you ever feel sorry for yourself?
Since a job worth doing is worth doing well. I scrubbed, scraped, scoured and wiped, getting it all done-with a smile on my face.
Guilt – to be sure – is a powerful thing.
Happy Birthday John Daly!
2 years ago