"Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it."
Founder and longtime coach of the Chicago Bears
Let me be clear: Coaching youth sports is not for everyone.
It requires organization, patience, dedication, patience, knowledge of the sport, patience, and ... did I mention patience? But while the demands and responsibility are great, the rewards far exceed the investment of time and effort.
Last weekend, Thunder Alley, a Gilbert-based youth sports group, had its end-of-season flag football tournaments. As coach of the Bears in the 7-8 age group, I was hopeful that our boys would be focused - not a given since our first game was at the insanely early time of 7:30 a.m. - and that they would catch a couple of breaks so we could finish the season with at least one more win. As the No. 9 seed out of 20 teams, we had our work cut out for us.
We won our first game, a tight battle against the Chargers. As we built a little lead in the second half, our Bears seemed to have an awakening. All season, Coach Dave - my assistant who handled the defense, while I led the offense - and I did our best to get the boys to focus on what we needed to do on the field and not worry about what our opponents were doing. During that first tourney game, our boys seemed to experience that Joliet Jake "see the light" moment from "The Blues Brothers." Their confidence swelled, and their play improved.
Our next matchup was with the Steelers, the top seed in the tourney and a perennial powerhouse in our league. Our boys were up to the task and scored a touchdown on the first play of the game. Leading by one point at halftime, Coach Dave encouraged the boys to keep giving it their all; he promised that if they did, they would walk away proud no matter the outcome of the game. As they increased their lead, anticipation grew on our sideline. When the clock ran out, parents and children exploded with joy as our boys pulled off the biggest upset of the day. As a coach, satisfaction came from knowing each player made a key contribution to help the team reach its goal. OK, finally beating those guys was pretty cool, too.
The emotional high of that win could not be matched in our semifinal game, and we lost to the eventual champion Giants. The boys rallied in the consolation game against the Cowboys to take third place.
At this level, the goals should be for the kids to get some exercise, learn about the game and have fun. I think we succeeded on those points, but I am hopeful that the boys will also take from our season some lasting memories and an understanding of teamwork - as well as the point that coaches Dave and Halas make about the benefits of putting forth your best effort. I'll take away some football strategy points (thanks, Dave) and lessons in how to get 10 kids to pull on the same side of a rope.
As we left the field, worn out after a long day on an emotional roller coaster, my son, Chaz, patted me on the back and said, "Dad, you're the best. Thanks for coaching our team."
No, thank you, big guy.