IDEA #49. Find a sports league for younger children in your community and offer to help officiate or coach.
If a child has any interest in sports or athletics, one way of “giving back” to a community is through participation in youth sport programs–not as an athlete but as an official or coach. Little League baseball and town soccer in many places could scarcely exist but for the participation of teenage umpires and referees, and the experience of applying rules and making those difficult judgment calls can help prepare the young official for more difficult challenges in other fields.
Officiating presupposes a solid knowledge of both the sport and its rules, and moreover most programs that use non-adult officials offer some form of training; this no doubt includes advice on how to handle the occasional obstreperous player or parent. Even so, these young officials are usually dealt with quite decently by players and onlookers, as after all their presence makes play possible. Well-run leagues will continue to provide guidance for their younger officials throughout the season.
While adult coaching is the norm in most youth sport programs, a younger and skilled “assistant coach” can be a valuable asset to a team’s training regime, running drills or working one-on-one with players on particular skills. While the student-coach does not have to be a nonpareil athlete in the sport, a good skill base and, most importantly, an understanding of how skills can be broken down for teaching are essential.
The young official or coach gains unparalleled experience in exercising judgment and leadership; the fourteen-year-old who can manage a field full of scrumming eight-year-old soccer players is probably ready for most anything. And if that fourteen-year-old can confidently call balls, strikes, and outs, he or she may be set to take on the world.