We've all, hopefully, had good teachers, good coaches, good music teachers and club leaders and summer camp leaders who served as positive, motivating role models when we needed them. I can rattle off the names of my piano teacher, grades 3,4 and 6 school teachers, and my soccer coach as just some examples of adults who have deeply influenced who and how I am today.
So now that I have the chance to join their ranks - Galen's soccer league is crying out for volunteer coaches - why am I not jumping at the chance? I know and love soccer and kids. I'm even a certified coach. I have freedom around my work schedule and no travel. My number one job is supposed to be Stay at Home Dad, serving my kids in whatever way possible.
The sad answer is, I had a bad coaching experience that's scared me away. My second year of coaching Galen's team in Vancouver started out great, with an assistant coach who agreed to cover me when I would have to do a work trip to Africa. Unfortunately, post-election violence postponed that trip, and by the time I could travel the assistant's boy had decided soccer was not his calling. So I called the parents together and two of them agreed to carry the team until my return.
I arrived home not only to the utter breakdown of the team - no balls, no practices, no interim coaches - but also to shoulder all the blame. The fact that I'd made the volunteer commitment with the explicit understanding that I would have to travel, and then twice made necessary back-up arrangements, didn't matter. I was irresponsible. I alone had let the kids down. I should never have signed up in the first place (even though none of them had stepped up when the league was short volunteers, nor when the back-up coaches failed to deliver.)
There was even an intimation that I should not have popped off to Africa - that their 4-year-olds' soccer was more important than the schools and women's rights and health programs I was responsible for in Kenya. Sounds just a little like the local dance company who refused to reschedule one of their children's rehearsals to allow for a hugely popular community event (Canucks Stanley Cup finals screening).
That jet-lagged afternoon in my own living room with my mother and good friend lashing into me about Responsibility, and another dad calling on the phone with the same message, still hurts, and still feels unjust. I was a volunteer doing the best I could for all our children, and the collective group of parents failed to pick up the few weeks that I could not. And everyone was ignoring the bottom line: as far as I know the children loved me and were improving and were enjoying the game.
The trip was unavoidable, and the fact that the back-up parents didn't deliver was beyond my control. So the only way to avoid that disaster would have been to not volunteer, to throw that burden on some other volunteer's shoulders. Or to have the kids go without a coach. And I still don't look back and think that would have been the right decision. Leagues run on volunteers, and this league accepted me with my limitations because it was far better than the alternative of no coach.
But I'm ashamed to admit that each year since, I've made that wrong decision. I've let that hurt keep me from the true Joy of giving to children as a coach. I'll never be Mr. Samphire or Mr. McKay to a group of kids looking for leadership and fun and growth. And every year that I sign my kids up for sports I'll be hoping that some other good person does have more courage than I do and agrees to be that person in my child's life.
But I promise this. I will never judge a volunteer coach for trying his/her best. And when that volunteer needs help, instead of throwing blame I'll be throwing myself in to help. So hats off to all volunteer coaches and leaders - for the good of our children you have my deepest appreciation, a splash of envy, and when you need it, my support.
Write to Renew - One of our previous graduates, the talented Jay Nahani, is leading us in a Write to Renew workshop June 14th. For writers and non-writers alike, this one-d...