SPRINGTIME IN MARIN. Trails are filling up, days are longer and the ballfields come alive with the cacophony of little voices from kids involved in sports.
As I read this month’s feature “A League of Our Own,” I took my own sweet journey down memory lane. The time my 7-year-old daughter Grace swung and swatted for what seemed like hours at the air after the T-ball stand was finally replaced with a pitcher. Or the day my other daughter, Natalie, earned her nickname “the boot,” when out of nowhere she lobbed a soccer ball over the opponent’s head to the goal. Or the instant when each finally nailed that coveted overhead serve in CYO volleyball. These were all emotionally packed moments that, one by one, formed pieces quilted into the tapestry of their character.
What I didn’t realize at the time was what a privilege it was to be part of this chaotic community. “Which field? “What gym?” “What color jersey?” “Who brought snacks?” The weekend frenzy all focused around the big game. On the field or courts we gained insight into our kids’ and our own psyches (I’m talking to you, sideline screamers). Here is where I would like to thank all the great coaches around the county and acknowledge that as for the not-so-great coaches, such as myself, we were answering the call of duty with the best of intentions. And in regard to your “What were you thinking?”, sideline screamer. the answer is, obviously I wasn’t.
How do we bad-apple coaches get brought into the system in the first place? It starts with an email that says something like, “Due to a lack of coaches your daughter cannot play soccer this season.” Panic. Flurry of emails and voilà, the Mom Squad to the rescue. The stars of this coaching show were Leigh Baktiari, the only one with actual soccer skills, Lisa Bacino, competitive by nature and then Julie Munro and myself, both long on enthusiasm. My guess is there is a Mom Squad equivalent in every sport, every season. We get your kids twice a week. We navigate their volatile emotions and moods and do our best to teach the sport in question, but mostly we have fun.
Some of the kids ended up having much better experiences than others. At the end of the Mom Squad season, one promising athlete sweetly said, “Mrs. Towle, if it’s OK, I don’t want to be on your team next year.” It turned out that her dad, who had been frowning from the sidelines during every game, had played the game in college. Hey, Dad, we could have used your help. I redeemed myself by also co-coaching the twice-undefeated Tigers CYO volleyball team.
From the outside it might look ridiculous that parents like me spent so much energy and fossil fuel shuttling our kids across the county, juggling games, lessons and tutoring, and it probably is. My guess is the parents of Memo Gidley, a professional race car driver and the subject of this month’s Q&A, did not get caught up in the mayhem of organized youth sports. Gidley grew up literally on the bay: he lived in the anchor-out community in Sausalito and raced first sailboats and then go-karts. When I met up with him at Blink Studio in Town Center last month, his eyes lit up as he showed the photographer and me his various trophies earned for races through the years. And these are the real ones, not the “you showed up; good job, kid; here’s your trophy” type.
Cheers to all the coaches, parents, grandparents, godparents and/or anyone who shows up with a blanket or folding chair and, of course, the mini-athletes in our county. If you have little ones, I highly suggest signing up with your local recreation center for whatever peewee sport offerings you can. There are life lessons to be learned and some fun to be had. See you on the fields.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Sporting Life“.