Behind every youth sports team is a coach. A coach who, after a long day at work, drives to the field where he stays past dark. A coach who gives up time with her own family to teach others’ kids the value of athletics and hard work. A coach who, aside from running practice and games, also spends hours researching coaching tactics, organizing uniforms, communicating with parents, arranging team picture times, and so on.
We talked with some of these unsung heroes—local volunteer coaches—about how and why they take on this difficult but rewarding task.
While most of the coaches said they began coaching because their child was on the team, their reasons for continuing to coach have more to do with the value of coaching in general.
Sandy O’Drobinak, who has been coaching girls’ softball in Dyer for three years, said she continues because of the progress she sees in the players. “I have seen many of them two years ago barely be able to hit a ball or make a good throw, to now being a great hitter and an awesome infielder.”
Julie Pruim, another girls’ softball coach in Dyer for four years, also said seeing the girls make strides developmentally from year to year is what keeps her motivated to coach. “I like to think that I am a part of their success,” she said.
While few of the local sports organizations require prior experience with the sport to be a coach, most coaches do have some background with it, whether they were in Little League themselves or played on an adult league. This helps with knowledge of the basics, but they also get help from other places.
Josh McCormack, first-year coach of boys’ baseball in Dyer, looks to his co-coaches when he needs assistance. “Some of my coaches have been to various Little League training camps and have presented ideas on how to teach the players new skills while keeping it interesting for the age range.”
Similarly, O’Drobinak uses a team coaching approach, breaking their team up into stations—led by coaches who know the most about each particular topic—to give the players more individual attention.
The coaches said the Internet has also proved helpful for learning drills and age-appropriate fundamentals.
Each of the coaches said that, between practices, games, organizing paperwork, and other responsibilities, they spend about 6 to 8 hours a week on coaching tasks. While the time away from home is difficult, there are other aspects that are more challenging.
For Matt Lindemulder, who coaches baseball for 6- to 8-year-old boys in Cedar Lake, the “biggest challenge would have to be patience with younger kids. But I just remind myself to have fun.”
Pruim is burdened by “developing the team while remaining competitive. I believe every player should sit the bench. Everyone should play infield and outfield. I am not as competitive as some other coaches, and sometimes the parents do not agree with my decisions.”
O’Drobinak concurred that keeping the parents happy is the most difficult part of coaching. “Some parents want very serious coaching and if it’s too laid back, they are upset. Then you have those that want their child to just have fun and not want serious coaching, so if you are doing serious drills they are upset. With some parents you are practicing too much and with others you are practicing too little. The list goes on and on.”
The rewards outweigh the challenges, however, the coaches said.
For O’Drobinak, “The biggest reward is being a part of their young life. When they are genuinely excited to see me, it makes me believe that I'm important in their life, and that I've helped make a difference with guiding them [to] see how awesome they can be not only in the game of softball, but with being part of a team.”
McCormack said the highlight of the job is seeing “13 smiling faces, including my son, calling me Coach Josh.”
Pruim said, “All sports offer an opportunity to teach life lessons such as teamwork, determination and leadership. I feel if the girls can walk away from the end of the season having some fun, and with a little more self-confidence, I have done my job. Team sports are not all about winning the game, they are about teaching the [kids] life lessons while creating a lifetime love of the sport.”