Friday, 19 October 2012

Grassroots Good Sorts

I started this week having a jolly good whinge about the paucity of coaching volunteers for our cricket team of  9 and 10 year olds. My frustration at being unable to get a single dad to step up and coach our team  was very real. The fact that you coach rugby in the winter and this is "your off season" just doesn't cut it. Is this about you, or your son?
That was until I came up with a solution. I would be the coach. Hell, I can't catch a cricket ball for toffee, and I throw like a girl. But who cares? This team is going to have a whole lot of fun! And best of all, my nine year old is incredibly excited to have his dear old mum as his cricket coach. Bless him.

So I've moved on from moaning about people who use Saturday kids sport as a babysitting service, and I've been thinking about all the good sorts who give so much of themselves to support grassroots sport in the great kiwi backyard. There are so many great people out there who give up their own time and share their expertise.

From what I've noticed, there are the same people pitching in year after year. We've been extremely fortunate that these volunteer coaches have been mostly very good. I spoke to one of them about it last cricket season when I thanked him for stepping up to coach once again. He is a truly wonderful man. Very patient, completely supportive, and very talented himself. He told me that he volunteers to coach so that he can have that quality time with his son, time that his son will remember forever. He is also a realist and admitted that he will only be able to coach his son's team for a limited number of years before his sons skills outgrow his own. To that end, he is prepared to have a job with less responsibility until such time as his son no longer needs him coaching that cricket team.  I nearly hugged him when he said that- what a wonderful thing to do for your child.

In the winter sports season, we have been very lucky to have the same football coach for four years in a row. Now this particular dad is a very laid back, unassuming kind of man. He is quietly supportive, never shouts at the boys on his team, or gets upset with them. He's also not from England, which is quite atypical at our local football club. When he is on the field during a game, he quietly leads the boys. You can't hear his voice from the other side of the pitch. He doesn't run a weekly practice for the team, as there just isn't enough time. He gets them to turn up half an hour before the game each week, and he runs a few drills with the lads. This football team would be one of the top three in their grade because they play for each other and for their coach. And they have fun! They have loved having him there each week, guiding them since they were six year olds clustered around the ball.

I've met a few parents and grandparents of cricketers in my time. When you hang around cricket grounds as much as I do, you inevitably end up chatting to the people sitting near you. And you always ask other people why they are there. I am always impressed by the continued support some parents show their kids, well into adulthood.
At Colin Maiden one sunny afternoon, I  had my feet up and was soaking up the sunshine when a little old lady came along and sat near me, looking a bit confused. So I asked her if she needed some help. It turned out she was Jimmy Neesham's grandmother, and had come along to watch him play for The Aces. Bless her cotton socks. He was drinks carrier that day, and I motioned to him that she was here, and she was so delighted to see him "looking all handsome in his cricket uniform."

At a recent Club Cricket match I attended,I think all the spectators (excluding myself!) were parents or grandparents of the players. It really was heartening to see how much of a thrill these parents were still getting out of watching their now adult sons play their Saturday cricket. I am guessing these people did not use Saturday sport as a babysitting service.

The most remarkable one for me though is the dad at our club who is still coaching teams, even though his lad is well past his junior cricket phase. Phil Horne is quite exceptional. He has a fine cricketing pedigree of course, having played for Auckland and for New Zealand. His son now plays in our premier club side, and Phil is there as fielding coach. He also coaches the Kings 1st XI. Those teams are so very lucky to have someone with his passion for the game and his level of dedication who is still giving back to the sport. Phil's own parents- who I used to see watching Phil play many years ago, are still going along to matches. Now they are supporting their grandson.

I started the week really disappointed by the fact that everyone is too busy to coach a bunch of eager young nine and ten year olds. But by the time the weekend had rolled around, I'd come to the conclusion that there are so many wonderful people out there who do a lot for grass roots sport, that I didn't want their great contribution marred by the few who have no time to make any contribution. If you have a volunteer coach involved in your kids sport, make sure you thank them every week. Consider this- if it wasn't for them, you could be coaching that team yourself!

Monday, 1 October 2012

The F Word

I knew that one day I would end up writing about the F word in sport. It was inevitable, inescapable even. I tried to put it off for as long as I could. The F word was never going to be my favourite topic. But, today I felt compelled to do a piece on that F word.  Football.

During the winter months, I spend many hours in the mud at football, and I do it with pleasure. You just can't knock the enthusiasm from the kids who want to get out there and kick a ball around in the rain, the wind  and the mud. We've had Saturday football for a few years now, and Sunday as well as there is always someone playing in a rep tournament somewhere across Auckland.

But today was a bit special. We weren't actually playing , just going along to watch. Day one of the School Holidays and we were off to the Three Kings United National 9th Grade Tournament at Keith Hay Park. This was the final day of a 3 day tournament where the kids had played a number of 40 minute games each day. On the final day, there were Quarters, Semis and Championship Finals to be played. Master 9 wasn't playing, but he was dead keen to go along (with his rugby ball) and cheer on his mates from Eastern Suburbs who had been unbeaten in the first two days of the tournament.  Having been to so many of these tournaments this winter, there's something a little intoxicating about the atmosphere, the anticipation and the excitement.
Three Kings United National 9th Grade Tournament

We arrived in time for the semis, and watched Eastern Suburbs take on old rivals East Coast Bays. These teams have , for the most part, faced each other more than once during the winter, and know each other's game pretty well. The kids all get to know each other's name on the field, and whilst they are fighting it out on the pitch, they are quite happy to chat afterwards.

Happily Eastern Suburbs were the victors in their Semi Final, putting East Coast Bays away 6-0. On the next pitch Forrest Hill battled it out with the hosts TKU, with the visitors taking it away. That game ran a few minutes behind, and when the TKU boys heard Eastern Suburbs had won, they came straight over to wish them all the best for the final against Forrest Hill. That camaraderie and competition is the product of a long season battling it out together.

The Dads giving the Ref a helping hand
The thing I find interesting about the Championship Final at these tournaments is how the parents and supporters respond to the pressure. I'm generally pretty philosophical about the whole thing, and I like to think that's how I survive.
I spoke to two mums today who were on the Rescue Remedy to get through the emotional angst of it all. Another mum could not actually watch the match and removed herself to a chair at a safe distance where she could do her breathing exercises in relative safe comfort. But it's the dads that fascinate me the most. Living vicariously through your offspring is alive and well on the sidelines. This goes for every match I have been to, irrespective of which teams are playing. The dads feed on the adrenalin and get really excited by all the on pitch drama. There's finger pointing, there's shouting, gesticulating, waving and jumping up and down on the spot. It's generally  in  good humour, and mostly directed at the ref. I have yet to see anyone come to blows or take anything further.

But, returning to the championship final. What a match! These boys had been playing football for three days straight, and this was their final shot at glory. The sun was shining and the temperature was unseasonably warm. Sunscreen was applied pre match, just in case. It ended up being 40 minutes of a hard fought battle between two old foes. No George and the dragon here. These two teams have been beating each other all season, and know each other's game very well indeed. There was a bit of drama, with a few hard tackles, mum on the pitch with the magic spray, and apparently the ref was blind. But the boys from the other side of the bridge prevailed, and got to take home the biggest trophy of the season.

Championship Winners Trophy

And with that, all the mums quickly exhaled. All the dads started on their discussions about how the ref should have seen this, that and the other. The North Shore boys celebrated at full volume. The boys from  Suburbs ended up in tears at the frustration of seeing the big win slip through their fingers.
Eventually everyone packed up their gazebos and camp chairs and headed home to hang up their football boots and to dig the cricket gear out of the garage to get ready for another season of sport.