A good majority of my Saturdays are spent on the basketball court as a volunteer coach—teaching kids the fundamentals of the game, instilling in them the values of teamwork (ahem, don’t be ball hogs!), and passing out post-game fruit snacks.
My path to coaching began with a promise I made to a co-worker-turned-close friend several years back. We were shooting hoops during a lunch break and she casually said: “You’ll have to help me coach my daughter’s team when she’s old enough to play.”
Fast forward 15 years later, and my friend now has four kids. In the basketball world, that’s almost a starting line-up. Her kids range in age from “little dribbler” (5 years old) to “junior varsity star” (16 years old). Because every point guard values good “follow-through,” (it’s the secret sauce of a perfect shot), I kept good on my promise.
Alongside my friend, I’ve been lucky enough to coach each one of her kids’ teams at some point, and the experience has brought me tremendous joy—and being around kids has taught me to not take anything too seriously.
For the love of the sport
I got hooked on basketball when I was growing up in the Detroit area and watching NBA games. When my family moved to Colorado, I made my first group of friends during recess while playing a game of hoops on the elementary school’s court.
After years of playing competitive basketball, and having driveway games be staples of any family gathering at my home, the sport had become a crucial part of my identity. It gave me confidence during those awkward middle school years. Plus, I teach the same plays my dad taught me, which feels like a tribute to my father who passed away in 2010.
Coaching also allows me to continue to be involved in a sport I love, even now that my own days of two-a-day practices and traveling for away games are long in the past. I love inspiring a new generation of athletes with the hopes that the game brings them fun memories and friendships.
Perhaps one of the biggest victories, as a coach, is witnessing a kid’s enthusiasm when she scores her first basket during a game. There’s no “playing it cool.” I’ve watched kids become so overcome with excitement they’re literally jumping for joy; applauding for themselves; looking into the stands to give a shoutout to their fan club, AKA their clapping parents. It’s taught me to less reserved and that joy can be felt when we unabashedly celebrate little moments and aren’t afraid to show our enthusiasm.
Getting better and better
As a little league coach, what I find so rewarding is the rapid progression of skills that can happen over the course of a season. It’s so inspiring to watch a girl go from not even knowing the basic rules of the game to confidently dribbling, shooting, and scoring over the course of just a few months. It reminds me how much we can accomplish when we are open to learning something new and dedicate the time to regularly practice. It reminds me of something I learned as a young athlete: Playing sports forces you to be present and focus in the moment, which pays off big-time in happiness.
Coaching is an important part of my wellness routine. As a freelance writer, I work from home. I also live by myself. The little league basketball season starts up during the winter, which is when those seasonal blues are notorious for showing up. I know that for my mental health, I need to be spending time with friends, exercising, and giving back. Connecting to others, moving my body, and doing something for someone else’s benefit all make me feel happier than any professional win I might hit in my career.
I run around the court with the kids and it keeps me feeling young. Afterwards, my friend and I get those happy endorphins that come with exercise by playing some one-one-one or joining a pick-up game. Then we grab a drink or make dinner together.
As busy adults, how many of us can say we get to see our friends three times a week, even during the winter? I get to be involved with a sport I love, and I have an opportunity to introduce basketball to the next generation. I’m giving back in a way that doesn’t cost me money, and by volunteering as a coach, I feel more connected to my community. High-five to that.
How to get involved volunteer-coaching
1. Check with your local recreation center
Oftentimes, they’re in need of coaches or assistants. Give them a call or e-mail the youth sports director and express your interest.
2. Find coaching resources online
If you’re new to coaching and need some help planning out practices, there are plenty of free resources available to you. I’ve found ideas for drills on YouTube and other practice exercises at breakthroughbasketball.com.
3. Celebrate more than just winning
At the end of each game, I honor a player who demonstrated great sportsmanship by doing things like cheering on their teammates or helping an opponent get up off of the court after falling down. It’s a way to reinforce to the kids that sports are about so much more than the score at the end of a game. As a reward, I give the player an orange water bottle. It’s our team’s color!