April Jeppson: It’s worth it to be a youth coach these days

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, November 28, 2019

Every Little Thing by April Jeppson

April Jeppson


I was in a meeting the other day, and we were discussing the shortage of parent volunteers for youth activities — youth sports in particular. An older gentleman mentioned how back in the day he saw lots of parents who were willing to pitch in and help coach. So we discussed what’s changed since then.

Email newsletter signup

We also talked about how many afterschool opportunities there are in this community. It’s not just football or T-ball anymore. Heck, it’s not just sports. There are various activities. There is a greater need for volunteers than we have a supply of parents.

The thing that really struck me about this conversation was when someone said, “You’d have to be crazy to want to coach nowadays. It’s not just the kids you’re working with, but it’s the parents that you have to deal with.” There was a universal agreement that swept through the room.

These are parents who think their children will become the next NBA star or are heading right to the Olympics — parents who are too busy to help coach, but have plenty of time to send emails and make 20-minute long phone calls complaining about the job you’re doing. I’m not saying these kids won’t make it to the big leagues. I’m saying that this kid is 4 years old and, honestly, they just want to learn a few things and have fun with their friends.

I am a gymnastics coach and I love it. Working one-on-one with these kids is really the highlight of my day. I’ve got a little girl in one of my classes who could not figure out how to do a cartwheel. For whatever reason, she just kept putting down the wrong hand first. We’ve done one-on-one, drills, stations, but it just wasn’t clicking. I pulled her aside a few weeks ago (she was kind of embarrassed), and I told her not to worry about the rest of the class. I then got on my hands and knees and moved her body for her. We did this a few times until I knew she was grasping it. Her cartwheels the rest of the practice were hit and miss, but they were better. This last week she shouted my name so I could watch her. She was doing it correctly every time! Her smile took up her entire face. She was beaming — we both were.

Here’s the thing. A few weeks ago I could have had an angry parent send an email or confront me about how their child can’t do cartwheels yet. What these parents don’t see is that we are working with these kids, but sometimes it’s at their speed. Sure the other kids picked it up faster than she did, but that’s OK. I want my students to want to come to practice. I want them to develop a lifelong love of the sport. I want them to believe in themselves, and when the skill doesn’t happen right away, I want them to continue to work at it. I want this little girl to remember that time that cartwheels were hard, but she kept working at it until she got good.

I’m sad there aren’t more parents willing to help coach youth sports. I’m sad we are all so busy that no one has time to help out. I’m really bummed out though because we as parents aren’t always the nicest to those who are willing to coach our kids. We need to extend grace. We (as coaches) love when parents are willing to help. We also love when we get positive feedback about how we’re doing.

I love each and every one of the kids that step into my gym — the talented ones and the ones who roll their eyes at me before wall sits. I hope you’re nicer to the coaches in your life, and I really hope you’d consider taking a little time out of your week to be one. I promise you, it’s so worth it.

Albert Lean April Jeppson is a wife, mom, coach and encourager of dreams.