When I brought my son Ryan to his first practice as a member of the Braves in Brewer Little League’s farm league in the spring of 1993, I had a simple plan: start watching from the sidelines and then provide help if the coach needs it.
In a matter of a few agonizing minutes, however, I became the coach.
When the league administrator arrived and spotted me with my 8-year-old son, he told me I was coaching the team.
In the few days leading up to the first practice, none of the parents, including me, had volunteered to coach and, not surprisingly, there was not a waiting list of coaches in our community eager to guide 15 kids, ages 7 to 9, some who would be picking up a bat and ball for the first time.
Being able to work with the kids, however, wasn’t my main concern, but instead it was finding the time to do so.
My wife and I both had full-time jobs. Ryan was an active kid while Kathy and I also had a 3-year-old son, Matthew — also busy, but thankfully already then a bit cerebral — and a 7-month old daughter, Tess, who we also loved dearly, but was challenging us daily with her distaste for sleeping.
It would be difficult to balance family and work while also fulfilling a commitment to games and practices.
It would be something I would have to work out, the Brewer administrator said, explaining that if someone didn’t step to the plate, then it was likely that this team would not be able to play its games.
Given that choice, I accepted the coaching post.
It’s very unlikely a similar scenario of quickly selecting a coach would occur today. Of course there are still many busy parents out there with full-time jobs and more than one kid at home, but Little League has a more stringent system in place that has to be met before a person can begin coaching. Background checks were mandated in 2003 and some local leagues also don’t give final approval to prospective coaches until a vote by their board of directors.
Those changes implemented by Little League are in place to give better protection to its participants and have forced many of its local leagues to improve organizational skills and adopt guidelines.
A common remaining theme is that local leagues still rely on parents to step up and coach teams. A willingness for a volunteer coach to commit time is needed for leagues to thrive.
It’s can be a difficult commitment, and, although one that I was kind of forced to make, it was also one that I continued for the next several years of farm and minor league baseball and then Police Athletic League basketball. I was an average coach, but I was able to commit time in that first year because several other parents stepped up to help, also, and in those following years I was able to assist other coaches.
It really does come down to having a simple plan — just be willing to change it.