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!