On Coaching Kids

IMG_2035I’ve coached kids for years, so many years now that my first cross-country team is now grown up, starting their own families and looking for ways to get their own children involved in sport.  As a young teacher, I did it all: cross-country, volleyball, basketball, and track.  Now that I am more experienced and in a large school with other teachers who have their own set of expertise, I can focus on what I know best: running and track.

When my own children were young, I coached their soccer teams.   It didn’t take long, though, for them to walk away from the sport.  My oldest was a music guy; my youngest simply didn’t have the maturity or mindset to play a team sport.  It didn’t make sense to force them to play so our family went on a soccer hiatus as they became more involved in other sports.   This year, both are playing soccer again.  The Littlest Dude, 10 years old, asked me to coach his team.  My oldest shut down that idea.

Whether as a teacher or a parent, I coach because I want to.  I don’t keep track of how many hours I have put into selecting and organizing teams, corresponding with parents, running practices and competing; nor do I worry about the unexpected costs that can be incurred, such as buying relay batons for track or gloves for our soccer team’s goalie.  The excitement that kids bring to each practice or game and the occasional thank you (yes, thank you’s are far and few between) make it worthwhile.  I can’t imagine working with kids in a sport setting not being a part of my life.

Sadly, that is now taking place in my work life.  In Ontario, elementary teachers are currently in a Work to Rule situation.  We have been without a contract since September 2014, and our union and the provincial government continue to negotiate.   Among the issues the union is standing up against are increased class sizes and significantly reduced support in Special Education.  In order to show concern to the government, teachers have gradually walked away from tasks which are not assigned parts of our jobs, but have come to be expected.  This past Wednesday, all extra-curricular activities have been added to the list.  The government’s response was a threat to reduce teachers’ pay.

Like many other teachers I know, I already miss spending time in extra-curriculars, be it a team, an art club or an outreach group.  Docking our pay, though, is not the solution.  In fact, exactly how do you take money from someone for not coaching a team that they volunteer to run?  How do you remove pay from a volunteer?  As a parent, I completely understand the frustration that others have over the cessation of extra-curricular activities but it would be far more frustrating to see my 10 year old child in a class with over 30 students.  How could I possibly expect any teacher, regardless of youth or experience, to be able to manage a class effectively, plan, teach, assess, and report accurately?  Add in all other expectations, such as coaching and other many demands of the job, and our education system will certainly lose strong teachers; it will fall apart.

What we need is not threatening language or complaints. Public support and respectful negotiations are a must.  Understanding is essential.  Once those are in place, things will settle and we can slowly re-establish the public education system in Ontario.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions above are solely my own.  They have not been endorsed by others.

Giving Back

In Chicago, I was absolutely wowed by the number of volunteers at the marathon.  Every few kilometres had an aid station that was two blocks long.  When I read this ahead of time, I imagined that Chicago simply had short city blocks; I expected two tables of water and, then, two tables of Gatorade manned by a small crew of volunteers.  I was completely wrong!  The first block had table after table of Gatorade – on both sides of the road – and dozens of volunteers.  The second block had table after table of water – again on both sides of the road and, again, manned by dozens of volunteers.  I imagined that the size of the stations and number of volunteers would decrease as the course progressed but they did not; Chicago knows how to look after its runners.

One of the things that I love about teaching is it indirectly allows me to give back to the running community.  IMG_2035In the fall, I coach cross-country with 3 other teachers; this year, we fielded a team of almost 300 students.  In the spring, I coach track and field.  There is nothing I love more than watching kids set goals, whether it is to build fitness or aspire to be the best, and push themselves to achieve them.

As a parent, I also get involved with my sons’ activities.  Sure, there are several other things that I could be doing with my time.   But when the soccer club sent a mass email in the summer looking for coaches for both sons’ teams, how could I say no?  I was going to be there anyway, I know soccer and I am quite comfortably handling a group of boys.   soccer balls The Littlest Dude was quite happy to have Mom as Coach; the Oldest Dude said “No way!”

This Saturday morning, for the first time ever, I found myself giving back to one son’s choir and, then, their soccer club.  When I told my oldest that I was going to drive him to his choir rehearsal rather than have him take the bus, he didn’t refuse (he actually likes to take the bus) but looked puzzled.   “I’m measuring the boys for their uniforms,” I said.

“Why are you doing that?” he asked.

“When money was raised for uniforms in the spring, I told Dave (his choir director) that I’d help out.  It is an easy way for me to contribute to the choir.”

AFGM - Linbrook
Choir rehearsal for A Few Good Men on Saturday morning.

I expected him to groan as he doesn’t like me around him at choir (or soccer); the oldest dude prefers to do things on his own and have me somewhere in the background.   This time, though, he approved with a simple “Okay” and we headed to his rehearsal together on Saturday morning.  I measured almost 50 boys, guessed how much they would grow over the next year, and laughed when every single one of them looked for a place to hang his sweater rather than toss it on the floor for a few minutes.  Gotta love choir boys!

We left at 12:30, which gave me an hour to pick up the Littlest Dude and get him to our soccer game.  I have 11 ten year olds on my team and they are a lot of fun to work with.  Over the past month, I watched them develop from a group of good players to a solid team.  We are almost half-way through the season and I am crossing my fingers that I can keep them on the streak that they are on right now.

Last night, I went to be tired – really tired – from a busy Saturday.  But it was a good kind of tired, the result of volunteering and doing what I can to give back to my community.