This is a story about my last youth basketball season. We were the worst team in the league, evidenced by a winless record and abysmal on-court play. In fact, the closest we came to a win was also, objectively, possibly the best basketball game I ever played in my life. I scored 20 of my team’s 24 points. It didn’t really matter, though, because the other team scored about 30 more, including two points from one of our own players. Suffice it to say: we were a bad basketball team.
It wouldn’t have happened if my our coach, my dad, wasn’t so utterly clueless. His coaching philosophy was limited to insisting that if we would only learn how to put ‘English’ on our layups and practiced doing Skyhooks like Wilt Chamberlain then we’d win it all. But, no. We didn’t win it all. We didn’t win anything.
Regardless of our complete and total lack of success, none of us would have had an opportunity to compete at all if my pops didn’t volunteer to show up. Regardless of our terrible losing season, it was at least a memorable losing season. Luckily, when he “coached” my traveling soccer team years later, he was actually just the guy who did the required paperwork. We were able to raise enough money from sponsors and parents to hire professional trainers. You know, guys who had actually played the game before.
That fateful season turned out to be my final year of organized basketball. I loved playing, but more so than that I can look back now and realize the impact of my dad helping out. Even if his help was more or less relegated to holding a clipboard and screaming “ENGLISH… PUT ENGLISH ON THE BALL” every time someone attempted a layup, every player and their families would never have been there without him.
Unfortunately, volunteers like my dad are showing up less and less on the sidelines as coaches, refs, and organizers for youth leagues across all sports. People have less time, less training, and less experience, which ultimately results in less participation.
Even bad coaches with good intentions are doing a good thing. It is impossible to downplay the importance of ‘showing up,’ because it isn’t about winning and it isn’t about treating every kid like they are going to be LeBron James or Pele one day. It’s about giving our kids an opportunity to just go out and have fun. Sports provide something unlike anything else which exists in society, a chance to compete, to build relationships, and to be more active and healthy while making great memories.
Well, not all of them will be great, but we often learn more in defeat than we do in success.
This is true in principal, but it’s far more true in practice. I know this because I went on to coach myself. In college, my roommate Jon and I volunteered to coach an AYSO youth team in Wimberly, TX. Jon and I met playing club soccer when we were 14 years old, and we are still friends today almost 20 years later because of our time together on the pitch. We managed to be a bit more successful as coaches than my dad was, thankfully, but the appreciation of the players and their parents was better than winning games. Although, fortunately, we did manage to win a few.
We were able to use our knowledge and passion for soccer to impact a local community, and while it only cost us a few hours a week in time and a few dollars in gas money (something we could ill-afford as college kids), what we personally got out of it was so much more important.
That experience helped shape who we are even today, instilling within us the value of showing up and committing our time to others. One of the team moms took pity on our brokenness and purchased both of us a team photo package, including a picture of Jon and I wearing way-too small team jerseys as well as a framed print of the whole squad. It’s one of my most cherished possessions, really, because it’s a reminder of what happens when we decide to help, when we choose to look outside of ourselves for a moment and participate.
Even if it’s something small, like volunteering to coach a kids’ soccer team, anyone who chooses to give their time and effort will be rewarded with a lasting positive experience. Youth leagues like the American Youth Soccer Organization are experiencing a drastic dip in volunteers across the country, from coaches to organizers and even referees. This decrease in involvement directly coincides with a drop in player participation.
As they say, 80% of success is just showing up. So show up and pitch in to help grow youth sports organizations like the AYSO in your local community.
And always, always remember: put some English on those lay ups.