A few years ago, when my oldest child was three years old, we enrolled him in our community’s youth soccer league, which actually has a “four and under” bracket.
What I couldn’t help but notice when he was playing is that there weren’t enough playing slots available. On a typical team, there would be four kids playing at once, but there would be six to eight little kids just sitting there.
Naturally, if you have a group of three and four year olds just sitting there waiting to play, they get bored. During one game, my son and one of his friends spent most of the game wandering around picking dandelions.
I don’t have any problem with bench players and with children getting rest, but the entire purpose of youth soccer at the three and four year old level is for the children to play a great deal as they learn the basics of soccer and get practice kicking the ball and stopping the ball in a simple game situation.
After the first season, I talked to the coach, and I learned that all coaching was done on a volunteer basis. Each team needed to have a coach and an alternate, so the limitation was more about the number of coaches they had as that directly dictated the number of teams. Players were then spread evenly among all the teams, and if you don’t have many coaches and a lot of kids, you end up with overstocked teams.
This was a problem, and the solution was simple: they needed more coaches. There was no reason I couldn’t do it, so after that, I became a coach for my children’s soccer league most seasons.
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Almost every youth activity out there suffers for lack of volunteers. More than anything else, children need time. They need an opportunity to engage in an activity under a guiding eye, even if that eye is far from an expert one. They need reinforcement that they’re doing well, and they also need some gentle guidance, too.
My responsibilities for youth soccer have never been overwhelming. I usually have a practice and a game each week. During the practice, I run drills out of a book given to me by the league organizers, then have them scrimmage against each other. I’m far from a soccer expert; I mostly just try to make sure everyone gets a chance to exercise a lot and to kick the ball a few times and to learn a few very basic things like how to stop the other team from kicking the ball straight into the goal. That’s all they need to know at this age.
Almost any adult can provide that, and children eat it up. They thrive on it. I have children that I coached three years ago who still come up to me and give me a high five if they see me in the community. That’s a wonderful feeling, as it’s a clear indicator that I’ve had some positive impact on their lives.
Beyond that, I have great relationships with countless parents in the community. I’ve even had some minor professional opportunities come my way as a result of these relationships.
The activity itself gives me an excuse to be outside and get some mild exercise. It also gives me some additional bonding time with my own children, as I take them to and from practices and games as well as coach, practice, and play with them, both at the soccer field and in the backyard.
All of this is free, and it just takes a few hours of time each week. I get far more out of involvement with youth activities than I put into it.
Interested? A great place to start is your town’s parks and recreation department. Don’t be afraid to ask what volunteer activities they have available.
It’s well worth it.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.