Coaching kids to make satisfying job choices


My friend Nan has an extremely bright son who is away at college studying, we are all sure, to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. However, Nan recently suggested, during one of those nanosecond audiences our kids grant us, that he consider an alternate career path. "Why don't you think about teaching high school economics and coaching baseball?" she said.

I am sure you can visualize the curl of his lip and the roll of his eyes. Certainly teaching and coaching would not keep him in the style to which he would like to become accustomed.

And you might conclude that this mother was not showing the requisite encouragement of bright and ambitious son. At the very least, she was not setting the bar very high.

But I think Nan is onto something, because many of us are married to Federal Reserve Board chairmen who discovered too late that they would rather teach high school economics and coach baseball, so to speak.

On the sidelines of our children's sporting events are more than 3 million men who shoehorn a little rec-league coaching into their demanding work lives and who will testify candidly that they are doing what they love for free. It is only the paycheck, "the golden handcuffs," that keep them going back to the office on Monday.

My own husband covers sports for a living, for heaven's sake, a globetrotting job that is the envy of all his friends. But I am certain he would chuck it all if someone offered to pay the bills while he coached a JV girls basketball team.

A friend who is a young father and a plant manager got a little taste of volunteer coaching this winter. Now he is daydreaming about returning to school for a teaching certificate so he will have the excuse he needs to coach wrestling full-time.

Another friend would rather play tennis than work, and he would just as soon teach his children's friends as play himself. It makes him feel like the Johnny Appleseed of Day-Glo tennis balls, inspiring the next generation of tennis players with his love of the sport.

I don't think this yearning for the smack of the ball in the glove is a misbegotten attempt to recapture lost youth. Nor is it the standard mid-career crisis, although the timing would suggest that.

Their children have drawn these men back into the world of sports that they remember so vividly, whether they were successful there or not.

They liked it then. They like it now. And they regret listening when some adult told them they were never going to make a living playing ball. They regret listening when someone said, "Never make your hobby your job because you will end up hating your hobby."

All around me are men who can muster the enthusiasm and the energy to coach at the end of a long work day because they love what they are doing. Maybe it would lose some of its luster if they had to do it, but I don't think coaching, for these men anyway, would ever fade to gray the way their jobs have.

Certainly some of the 250,000 teachers who coach sports have frustrations that this fantasy does not include: undisciplined and disrespectful kids and meddlesome parents. And Bela Karolyi might be the only youth coach who ever made money doing it.

But we could do our children a great favor by suggesting to them what my friend Nan suggested: You will work for 40 years. That's a really long time. Do something you love.

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