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Single Parents – Coach your kids

I’ve been a single parent for 4 years now. I’ve been good at it at times and awful at it at times. But I can honestly say the most important and rewarding thing I have done in that time is coach my girls’ basketball and volleyball teams. It has been an anchor for me personally, and I think it’s been a key to my relationship with my girls even though I no longer live with them daily.

First, it’s extra time with them beyond just the regular visitation. Including my scheduled time with them, I am able to be a part of their lives almost every day, even if only for the time we have practice. That helps me maintain that daily connection as a parent that divorce takes away. I get to observe them with their friends, see how they fit in their groups, how they interact with others, and how well they listen to instructions from adults. That insight is invaluable, especially if your former spouse has primarily been the one in the role of handling all the friend arrangements and supervising play dates and such.

It’s also a great way to get to know your child’s friends’ families. I have daughters, and let’s face it it’s a mom’s world out there for elementary age kids, especially girls. It can be daunting for a male to break into that circle, but coaching can give you that entry. Between the weekly emails about practices, snack coordination, game schedules, etc. I’m now an essential part of the scheduling of elementary and middle school lives. It gives you an opening to get to know parents you might not otherwise know, and as a parent you can never know too much about your kid’s peers.

If you do coaching right, and remember what youth sports is supposed to be about, you can have an indelible impact on their lives and that of their friends. My oldest has almost 19 girls in her class playing basketball, and at times that does make for some unwieldy practices. Still, by focusing on the concept of being a team, loving each other, and supporting each other at all times I am certain their school and life experience at this age has been more positive. For a large group of preteen girls, they are remarkably free of cliques and backbiting, and though sports isn’t the sole reason for it, I know it played a role. There aren’t many other ways short of becoming a teacher where you can be a positive influence not only your child’s behavior, but also that of their peers in such a consistent way.

Finally, for the single parent it gives you something that is just between you and your child. Not that you want to shut out the other parent, but if you’re struggling with the end of your marriage and floundering with how to step into this role of doing everything during the time you have your kids, coaching gives you a base. You’ve now got a unique role in your child’s life that no one else has. It’s a greater responsibility, because you have to make sure you do it right and don’t become one of those youth sports horror stories, but it’s your responsibility alone. And if you love your sport that you’re coaching, you’re passing that love on to your child and will always have that connection. My 2nd and 5th grader watched Hoosiers the other night with me, and the oldest is still quoting back to me “My practices are not designed for your enjoyment.” She also likes “I ain’t no gizzard.” It also gave us an opening to talk about heavier subjects in the movie, like alcoholism, having a plan you believe in and staying with it, and peer pressure. Coaching them in basketball, and cultivating a love of the sport in my girls, is one of the reasons they were open to watching it at all. (Thankfully it’s probably the greatest sports movie ever, which also helps.)

If you don’t have a sport you love or know anything about should you still coach? Absolutely. I love basketball but knew nothing about volleyball when I started coaching it (which might have had something to do with our first year record of 1 win and umpteen losses). It was a chance for a couple extra hours a week with my oldest though. So I watched the videos on youtube, downloaded practice plans, and learned more than enough to get them started. There’s a ton of information for every sport online, the majority of it free. You can also find resources on dealing with parents, striking the right competitive/skills balance, and so on. Do not let an initial lack of knowledge deter you. If you spend even 10 minutes reading up about it, you’re more educated than the kids anyway. (To be clear, I do not recommend only 10 minutes of preparation though – you will lose control of the herd quickly if you don’t have a plan to keep them moving at all times).

I do have one article I recommend, and re-read myself before every season. It has made a difference for me with my oldest, who is not terribly competitive but loves the camaraderie of the team. At one time her lack of motivation would have driven me crazy, but a friend of mine sent me this article, and it’s the best piece of advice I ever received on the subject. I’ve shared it with my parents as well, and I hope you take it to heart if you take on the role of coach: I Really Enjoyed Watching You Play

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