Coaches Are The Backbone of Local Youth Sports
As the 5- and 6-year-olds transitioned from offense to defense, Charlotte Midgett watched the opposing player stop dribbling and practically hand the basketball back to her daughter – who wanted nothing to do with it.
“Emma, if he puts the ball in front of you like that, just steal it from him,” Charlotte recalls saying in her role as mom and coach.
“Mama, I can’t.”
“I don’t want the other coach to get mad at me,” she explained.
Welcome to the unpredictable and wonderful world of coaching youth sports. Is your spot on the sideline calling?
Each fall, winter and spring, scores of coaches must be recruited before kids in the Dare County Parks and Recreation programs can begin scoring goals, baskets, and touchdowns. Midgett, in her 21st year with the Parks and Recreation Department and 14th as Leisure Services Supervisor, oversees sports out of the Dare County Youth Center at the Family Recreation Park in Kill Devil Hills. In the winter, her office organizes some 64 basketball teams that require 128 adults to volunteer as head coaches and assistants. In the fall, calls go out for coaches of 35 soccer teams, about eight football teams and as many as five cheerleading squads.
“There are coaches you wish you could clone,” Midgett says about the challenge of finding enough volunteers.
Spencer Gregory is in his 17th year with the department and serves as Leisure Services Supervisor for the Roanoke Island/Mainland Division located at Wescott Park. More than 500 kids spent time in his programs last year, and the demand for adults to mentor them never subsides.
“It seems like it’s harder these days to find coaches because everyone’s really busy,” Gregory says. “We have that stable of coaches who have coached year after year after year and we know we can count on them, and we love those volunteers. They’re putting out a lot of time and effort for these kids for no pay – just doing it out of the goodness of their heart.”
The search for coaches begins when parents register their children for a sport. Especially with the youngest age groups, enough volunteers tend to emerge, albeit sometimes grudgingly. As the athletes get older, however, parents struggle with two major issues: There’s no time, and they’re not “good enough” to teach the game.
“Some people might be apprehensive because they don’t think they have enough knowledge in the sport,” Gregory explains. “With Rec ball, you don’t have to be Vince Lombardi, you just have to have a basic knowledge of skills and organization to do a good job.”
When parents don’t fill the needed positions, Midgett, Gregory and others in the department put out feelers to the likes of OBX Storm coaches, high school and college students, and former coaches whose children have aged out of Rec sports.
Sometimes staff members must fill the gaps. Sometimes a team gets cut, meaning more kids on all the other teams, which can lead to less playing time. Sometimes sports are in purgatory as last-minute searches take place, leading to late starts.
But creative solutions abound. If two parents want to help but not be fully in charge, they can serve as co-head coaches. If one volunteer feels good about his or her experience level while another has more free time, efforts are made to pair them.
“It’s a tough process. It’s a task,” Gregory says.
Midgett adds, “It always works out somehow.”
Once volunteers sign up, they undergo a background check and attend a meeting to prepare them for challenges they may face during the season. For the most part, coaches come back year after year, sometimes even leading multiple teams in different age groups during the same season.
“If the coach really wants to do it, the negatives that come with it – the positives outweigh it,” Gregory says. “It’s great to see all the kids out there having fun, the coach having fun. It makes everything worth it. We are extremely blessed. We have some really good coaches in Dare County, and I don’t know if the public quite realizes that. There are great people here.”
Two of Gregory’s go-to coaches are long-time volunteer Darrell Collins and newcomer John Cook.
To some, Collins is known as Manteo’s mayor pro tem. To others, he is the legendary Wright Brothers historian from the National Park Service. After coaching boys basketball the past 23 years, however, Collins is known simply as “Coach” by a generation of Manteo boys.
“I run into a lot of them, and they always call me ‘Coach,’ ” Collins says with a smile. “They get bigger, but you can recognize their features. They recognize me.”
Having played basketball on the beach since 1978, it was only a matter of time before Collins would be asked to join the coaching ranks. In 1995, when his nephews were 10, Collins agreed to fill a coaching vacancy.
“It kept going and going and got more rewarding to me,” Collins explains.
He jokes that he doesn’t have a stellar record – only two Dare County championships. His biggest goal is to develop players for their middle school teams and “instill in the boys basic teamwork, perseverance, determination, to be proud of what they’re doing and respectful.”
His players remember those lessons more than the wins and losses. They remember the team party at Pizza Hut around Valentine’s Day that has become an annual tradition.
“They still remember the camaraderie, the discipline, the running I put them through, so that’s pretty exciting. It makes me feel good that, in some little way, I made a difference in their life and they still remember me.”
While Collins coached his nephews rather than his own children, Cook jumped into the Parks and Rec scene to be with his kids. Cook has coached basketball, baseball, football, and soccer. He yells himself hoarse when coaching soccer and enjoys “embarrassing my children – that’s a lot of fun,” Cook adds with a laugh.
Cook wanted his kids to play sports and he wanted to coach their teams as a way to integrate into their new community when they arrived in 2012.
“My mom never missed a game. That’s the best way I can be a part of my kids’ lives, their friends’ lives. I feel like that’s where I can be most effective and really have an impact on people that I care about.”
Cook already told Gregory he’ll coach again this year.
“The Dare Parks folks do a great job. They encourage us, support us, make the coaches want to come back. It’s fun to watch (the kids) come out and run around and have a good time. You can’t beat it,” Cook concludes.
BJ McAvoy couldn’t agree more. In Kill Devil Hills, he has coached soccer and basketball with Parks and Rec since 2012 and also coaches travel soccer and Babe Ruth League baseball.
“It can be grueling as an attorney to work full days,” McAvoy says, but adds, “The kids are fun-loving and excited to be there, so it really energizes me.”
Not only does he get to spend time with his three kids on the field, McAvoy also gets to emulate what he saw as a young athlete: He was coached by his own father and countless other mentors who left their mark.
“They were influential to me because they took the time out, always brought great enthusiasm for what they were doing, made it fun, encouraged us to be competitive but also encouraged us to just have a good time and show good sportsmanship,” McAvoy recalls. “Maybe the best lessons in sports are the lessons that come through it, knowing you’re not going to win every time in life, the confidence it can build, friendships that come from it.”
In the role of dad/coach, John Voight enjoyed a front-row seat to his own child’s perseverance on the KDH basketball courts. His oldest son, Jack, was so small during his first season that he couldn’t even get a shot to the rim, let alone through the hoop. A whole season came and went. Then, in the middle of a game that second year, Jack broke into the scoring column.
“I’ll never forget when he hit his first basket,” Voight says. “We were losing by 15 points, so he was trying so hard not to smile running back down court. I could see he was holding back this grin from ear to ear because he’d hit one during a game.”
That was six years ago, and Voight continued coaching Jack, his sister and his brother along with countless others – eight years straight, soccer and basketball. This despite the fact Voight had two perfect excuses ready when “the call” first came all those years ago.
He works nights at Dare Devil’s Pizzeria. No problem, they said – games were on Mondays (his day off), and he could schedule practices for whenever he pleased.
Oh, and he had no experience.
How could someone possibly learn about coaching in this day and age?
“I went to YouTube. Googled ‘coaching 7-8 basketball.’ That’s how I got started,” Voight explains. “Keep the kids engaged, you’ve won right there.”
Voight’s goal now is to help Midgett get parents and other community members motivated to help, especially when they have their “time” and “talent” arguments ready. The benefits of volunteering, he says, far outweigh the negatives.
“When the kids say, ‘Thanks, Coach’ – those simple things….some kids are just really, really appreciative.”
So, Coach – how about it? Can you feel that clipboard in your hand, hear that shrill whistle in your mouth, see that sense of pride reflected in your player’s eyes?
“People who don’t volunteer are missing out,” McAvoy concludes. “It’s a sacrifice, yes, but it gives back tenfold because it’s so much fun. You get to almost be a kid again when you’re out there – a lot of people could use that relief.”♦
Steve Hanf worked as a sportswriter for 13 years in North Carolina before finding a fun second career in the classroom. He currently advises the newspaper and yearbook programs at First Flight High School and loves his new life on the OBX.