Coaching Flag Football

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Alas, nothing lasts forever. Seasons change. We had a nice extended summer in these parts, but now it seems like things are returning to normal. November is bringing colder temperatures. I’ve had to scrape my windshield before taking The Oppresses and The Boy to school.

There are other seasons, of course. Sports seasons. As you may already know, are a part of our family’s schedule and routine. If I’m lucky, I will coach a team. This gives me a chance to spend some more time with my children and try to teach them something and help them out.

This season gave me another chance to be on the field with The Boy and a few other children. I was an assistant coach for the flag football season. We had a lot of raw talent on our team. We had kids who wanted to play, kids who wanted the ball. We had kids who didn’t understand there were five players on the field and just one ball to go around.

A football on the ground during a sunny day.
Another flag
football season

In addition to our needing to explain to the gridiron greats how to share the football, we also needed to temper some of the players’ enthusiasm. For instance, if we were about to throw the ball, some of our own players would shout, “Pass!” as the play started. We loved the enthusiasm, but the head coach and I thought it would be a good idea to “surprise” the other team when it came to what play we were going to run.

Of course, there was no evidence to support this, but don’t question a kid’s gut.

Luckily, we were able to convince players to surprise our opponents. Other challenges for us included kids who wanted the ball. Again, rules called for only one ball per team and there were five players on the field. The head coach did a great job of spreading the ball around. Some players were more patient than others. Some waited their turn. Some players wanted to know how much longer they had to wait before their turn to run or pass the ball. Some players were certain that others were getting more turns than they were. Of course, there was no evidence to support this, but don’t question a kid’s gut.

Practice was fun. We had to remind some kids we were playing flag football and not tackle football. Some kids thought it was fun and cool to maybe tackle or physically block (totally against the rules). This was fun until they were the ones getting tackled or blocked, then it was mean and people were breaking the rules.

Sometimes there was a little confusion when a play was being run. Sometimes kids would run into each other, or trip over someone or something. Again, some were convinced people were trying to sabotage them. Balls were thrown or spiked. I jump in with my coaching experience and expertise and ask what’s wrong. Does it hurt and have a temperature? Kids are absolutely belligerent as they fill me in on the unwarranted attack on their person. It’s wrong and people should be punished. Our innocent victims demand satisfaction. I ask if we should hand out an equally harsh punishment for the accident that occurred when the victim ran into someone on the previous play. They try to hid their smile as they are reminded of what happened earlier, but they can’t and they go back to the huddle.

We try to make sure everyone has a chance to play every position. One assistant coach spent the entire game tallying plays and making sure everyone got in and got ample rest. My job was to make sure those who were on the sidelines were ready to play when their turn came. Some were ready. Sometimes someone was at the concession stand or going to their parents for a drink. The water bottles were on the sidelines, but they were convinced the parents had better drinks.

It was a good season overall for everyone. The players hopefully learned a few things about playing as a team. The coaches hopefully learned something about patience and working with kids. The Boy and I spent some time together driving to and from practices and games. He got a chance to see his friends again outside of school. I got to talk to some more adults. Everyone played and everyone had fun. My head coach gave a gift card to me and the other assistant at the end of the season, so some retail therapy to Dick’s Sporting Goods will be in order very soon. We all get to recover in time for a new season and new challenges.

Kids adjusting their uniforms and getting ready for a flag football game.
Ready for action.

Marvin the Foreman

Sometimes you see kids and you just know what they’re going to do when they grow up. Coaching youth sports gives me insight to plenty of kids. I watch some and I just think to myself what this one could do with a little molding. I see others, like the subject of this entry and think to myself, “Good luck, World.”

I have one player on my team this year who happens to be one of the kids in my neighborhood. So, I already have a feel for his personality and what he will bring to that proverbial “table”. I am also friends with his parents and I love relaying the nuggets this child utters to them from time to time. His dad tells me he’s going to be a foreman when he grows up. I can’t say I doubt that.

I’m going to call this child “Marvin” (Google “Marvin Miller” and you’ll understand why.) Marvin is a kid who makes sure you don’t forget about him. Even after you tell him where he’s playing or when he’s going to bat, He will ask you if it’s his turn yet, or why he can’t play over there. I’ll tell him it’s because there’s already someone over there. He throws his hands in the air and rolls his eyes. “Oh my God!” he exclaims. “Why can’t I just be over there?!” He mutters a few more things that I can’t quite understand because he is walking away and because I have other crises on the infield that require my attention.

Ready for work. A game? Not so much.

Marvin doesn’t miss much, especially when it comes to a break from the action. Immediately after it’s time to take the field, Marvin needs water. I remind Marvin he just had water and he should have had his water while he was on the bench, which, technically, he did have. He thinks for a second and says, “I have to go to the bathroom!'” I get his father’s attention and Marvin and Dad make their way to the bathroom (second time this evening.) Marvin returns and is unhappy to see his coveted position (whichever one he can’t get) has already been claimed by another player. Hands go up. Eye roll. The injustice. The humanity. Why? Why?!

Alex Cora never had it so hard.

Heart, Soul, and Slugger

I’m going to call this kid “Slugger”. Slugger is a boy who is excited to be at the field every time. He’s not necessarily interested in playing baseball but there is an infield full of dirt. We’ll get to that later.

The t-ball season, like other volunteering opportunities, has offered an abundant supply of memories and life-lessons. Every year, there is always one player in particular that will stand out in your mind forever. It’s not the clumsy swing. It’s not the lackadaisical “trot” to first base. It’s more the overall behavior and personality about that one kid who, through fate and chance, just happened to end up on your team.

I love baseball. I love telling stories. This year gave me both.

I’m going to call this kid “Slugger”. Slugger is a boy who is excited to be at the field every time. He’s not necessarily interested in playing baseball but there is an infield full of dirt. We’ll get to that later.

Slugger gets to the field and he is ready to talk. He likes to tell me where he’s going to go on vacation, where his family wanted to go originally before Corona palooza, and how his family came to that conclusion. I listen as intently as I can. There are other children coming up to me wanting to know the batting order. One of the players (The Union Guy) wants to know how long this is going to be. He needs to eat dinner and doesn’t really want to be at the field too long, or at all for that matter. I’ll tell you about him later.

Slugger is always asking me when he’s going to hit. “Is it my turn now? Is it my turn now? How about now?” I tell him not yet.

Slugger will finally get his chance to bat. I show him where to stand, where to put his feet. He’s standing next to me. I point to the line I drew for him. He looks at me. I remind him it’s his turn to hit. He steps up to the plate. God bless him. He hits a weak ground ball that makes it to the pitchers mound. He runs halfway down the line before he finally hears me say “The bat!” He flips the bat behind him. I dodge the missile. It’s a small bat. He’s a small kid but I don’t want to take any chances.

Slugger takes the field. I’m on the field with my players. I position them according to the hitter. There’s no set rules for where the players need to be. There is always three or four players wanting to play first base. The “pitcher” and shortstop draw their own bases so they can have one too. I’m constantly calling Slugger’s name. His attention is on his father, standing on the other side of the fence, a bird flying overhead, grass growing. Anything but the game at hand.

Slugger’s favorite activity is tracing in the dirt. He likes to practice writing his name. He’ll draw pictures. I’ve had to deflect a couple of ground balls that would have bruised his ankles. His latest feat was showing me how he could bury himself up to his ankles in the dirt. That’s great, Slugger. Here comes another ground ball.

When Slugger does get a ball, sometimes he’ll throw it. Sometimes he’ll roll it to the first baseman. Sometimes he’ll just run it over. He’s into Cardio… And it gives him a chance to talk to one of the teammates. There’s not enough of that on the bench.

Slugger likes to show me his facemask. He likes to tell me about the close calls he has before the game. Like the time he thought he lost his hat but then he remembered it was by his door with the rest of his stuff because he didn’t want to be late to the game. He was reminding himself about the game all day. Sometimes it’s his glove. Sometimes it’s his uniform. You never know will Slugger but he’ll fill you in.

He’s a gamer. He’s a kid who doesn’t quit. If you had nine Sluggers on your team, you wouldn’t have to worry about hustle or attitude.