On Coaching, Kids, & Conflict

For a peacenik parent like me, sports—especially team sports—is a bit of a prickly issue.  To me, the thorniness of it is because sports is an inherently schizophrenic arena when it comes to conflict.  On the one hand, it is an amazing opportunity to teach, learn, and feel connected to the “team” ethos.  Unlike more single-oriented sports like golf and tennis, having the overall result of a contest be based on not only the performance of one, but all is the perfect paradigm for learning cooperation and understanding.

On the other hand, the inherently competitive nature of team sports pits your team against the other team.  It’s “us” vs. “them.”  It is therefore extremely easy to make the connections to contests not as games, but conflicts.  I have heard on many occasions announcers of baseball games saying, “what this team needs is a good fight to get them bonded together.”  Certainly players and coaches alike use all sorts of military-type analogies for their sport.  “I’d go to war with him anytime” is one of the common ways a player will say they like a fellow player or coach.  Indeed, one could look at competitive team sports entirely within a military ethos, and many successful teams and coaches do just that.

Perhaps I was just lucky that I got my start as a coach leading the arms control community’s squad—The Mighty Doves—in slow-pitch co-ed softball during the 90s.  I really had very little choice but to stress the positive and cooperative aspects—I don’t think a group made up of adults at organizations like Peace Action, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Institute for Science and International Security would take well to a drill instructor routine.  But, even with a really strict focus on fun, TMD developed a rivalry with…wait for it…Greenpeace.  The irony of a team called The Mighty Doves getting into fisticuffs with Greenpeace (initiated by certain staffer at Peace Action that will remain nameless…) is certainly not lost on me, and made me acutely aware of the potential conflicts that are inherent in sports as I turned in my Mighty Doves jersey to start working my son Gus’ t-ball team.

“CoachN” has now been coaching Blastball (t-ball played with one base that honks when you step on it, a riot), t-ball, coach pitch, and now kid pitch baseball for five years now.  Glutton that I am, I’m coaching both Gus’ baseball team (the Grays, named after the Negro League’s Homestead Grays, who used Griffith Stadium in DC as their “Home Away from Home”), and Gunnar’s t-ball Mets.  I’m certainly not a perfect coach.  I’ve been called “relentlessly optimistic” and I lose my voice after just about every game due to “active encouragement.”  I probably meddle too much with the kids, when I should just let them be sometimes. 

But with my faults, parents seem to think I’m pretty good at it, and I think what makes my coaching applicable here is that I do it very much with Dudley Weeks’ “conflict partnership” in mind.  My two primary goals as a coach are simple—to have the kids love baseball enough to want to come back and play again, and to learn how to be a good teammate.

It’s the latter I’ll focus in on my next post, as my successes and failures may be helpful for both coaches and parents to help steer their kids’ sports experience in a positive direction.

2 Responses to “On Coaching, Kids, & Conflict”

  1. Susie T Says:

    ha! I remember you losing your voice quite a few times with the Mighty Doves too! “Relentlessly optimistic” — I love it!

  2. “On The Line!” « Stop Hitting Your Brother Says:

    […] but really seems to work is my “on the line!” routine.  The origin of this traces back to my Mighty Doves days once again, as after each game, I singled out a particular star, had her/him take a knee, and […]

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