As a youth growing up on Long Island, the only organized sport that I played was little league baseball. There was one season of junior high school football sprinkled in, but for the most part, baseball was the sport that I looked forward to most. As a grown-up, football grew to be my favorite sport. My son, following in my footsteps, has been a huge football fan since he was around 2 years old.
In previous posts, I wrote about my son playing football for the Hauppauge Youth Organization in the five and six-year old division. On a team of fourteen kids, my son was amongst a handful of kindergartners on the team. Although he is mature for his age, he did struggle at times with the complexities of organized football. As one of the coaches, it was my job to help him and the rest of his teammates improve over the course of the season.
Most of the kids showed meaningful progress from the first practice in August until the recent final game of the season. It was truly amazing to see progress happening right before my eyes. This is the first time that I've gotten to experience anything like this, and it was very satisfying. As a youth playing little league baseball, we kept the same team together for several years, so we all progressed together. When you're playing the game, you just have so much fun that you fail to realize that improvement is happening on a regular basis.
When I look back on the days of playing little league, all I can remember is the good times. Maybe it's because nostalgia can really polish up a memory and make it exactly what you want it to be, or maybe it's because things really were fun. At times during this season, these kids seemed to be having the time of their lives. However, the football season is long and it takes a lot of time and dedication to get the most out of it.
The team was made up of basically good kids, but they would act up from time to time. In our short attention span world, the mind of a five or six-year old seems to be constantly racing. At times, I was amazed that any progress was made, especially during the practices where the kids were "acting up."
As I reflect back upon this season, the thing that I am most proud of is not the development of the kids as football players, although it was exciting to experience it first-hand. For me, my proudest moment is that my son dedicated himself to playing the game, and kept a laser focus throughout the season. He missed one practice and one game during the course of the entire season, and his limited absences were caused by family obligations and not by his own doing.
When judging the skill level of the kids on the team, my son would be considered average at best. The same can be said for most of the team, although a few of them really shined. As a first-year player, it was to be expected. What I can say with 100% conviction is that he was the most dedicated player on the team. Maybe it stems from the fact that the same discipline that he receives at home was continued by having me coach him on the field. Whatever the reason, he always played the position that he was told to play and did whatever was asked of him in practice without ever complaining.
If not for the fact that I pushed him to execute the plays more efficiently, my son would probably tell you that it was a perfect season. Now that the season has ended, he genuinely misses going to practice and told me that Sundays don't feel the same. I can honestly say that my son is wise beyond his years, and he often times observes the world with the awareness of an adult. Most kids couldn't wait for practice to end, but my son actually was excited to go to football practice.
Many parents have a hard time being objective when it comes to their children, but that is not an issue for me. There are things that he can use work on and things that he does very well. Other parents and teachers have spoken to my wife and me about my son's wisdom and maturity level in relation to their own children, so I know that he is different than most kids his age, which can have its drawbacks at times as well.
Overall, the coaching experience was a great one. The ability to teach and connect with kids was something that I didn't even know that I possessed until I started coaching the team. It's a great feeling to see one of the kids from the team come up to you in school or around town and be excited to see you. In a day and age when parents and coaches tend to take things to unfortunate extremes, it makes me proud to say that this team, the parents and the coaches were as tight-knit as the little league baseball team that I played on as kid.
The season to remember culminated in a team pizza party. All of the kids wore their jerseys and got to bond for one last time as a team, as they will not all be together again next year when the six-year olds move up to another division. Many of the parents have older children that have been playing organized sports for a while. These parents, in particular, were so impressed with the way that we coached the team, that they presented us each with a gift and a thank you card at the party.
This surprising gesture was very moving, and greatly appreciated. Each coach received a gift certificate to a restaurant inside of the thank you card. This alone would have been more than enough, but we also each received a framed copy of the team photo. This will hang in my home office for years to come as a constant reminder of a season to remember.