I always planned on being an involved parent, whatever that would mean.

Never an athlete, always athletic, I joined the swim team in high school, taught swim lessons for spending money as a college freshman, played intramural soccer at 10 p.m. on weeknights on a college team with a ridiculous name. Later, mama to only one baby, finding extra dollars wherever I could, I coached track.

And then, my own babies really started to play sports. I promised myself I would volunteer as possible, but something always stood in the way, and all I could manage was to get my kids to practice (mostly) on time, in the (usually) correct uniform on game day, and bring excellent snacks for the team (siblings included).

When my oldest started soccer in kindergarten, he and I were both still deeply grieving the recent loss of my mom. I was barely navigating the world without her, mothering a kindergartener and a preschooler, and trying my best to be a functional teacher. While I promised myself I’d eventually coach, his abilities quickly outpaced my soccer knowledge. I filled in where I could, covering a practice or reffing a game when needed, and of course, bringing excellent snacks.

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I didn’t coach, but I watched the coaches. I watched my son’s first coaches cheer when he finally scored a goal without falling down in the process. I took in the coaches’ patience and the way they stood up for our very young team when they came up against more powerful opponents.

“I’ll coach my daughter’s first season,” I told myself. But that first season happened while I was immensely pregnant with my youngest. Instead of coaching, I watched my daughter’s first soccer coach carry his own daughter on the field while he coached and asked the (yet again) more powerful opponents to please rein it in, just a bit, so that our very young team would have the chance to learn to love the game.

More seasons went by, and I helped manage substitutions on the sidelines and, eventually, learned enough about the game (mostly from that oldest child of mine) to help create lineups that honored each player’s talents. And I still watched. I watched my two oldest learn the game from kind, loving coaches who helped them flourish as players. I heard my son praise the way his coaches guided him as a player. I watched that same son help run drills for his sister’s teams.

Then, my turn finally came, my youngest qualified for soccer, and I checked the box volunteering to coach his team. Here I am, on the field with a very young team, and a middle schooler helping run drills at practice and the sidelines during games.

I see them point out butterflies to each other. I notice them sitting on the field to pick the flowers. I listen as they tell me about their pink cleats and the ice cream their parents have promised them after the game. I carry my own son up and down the field while reminding his teammates which way to kick the ball. I’ve been in the awkward position of having to ask another team to roll back their offense so that these tiny athletes can learn to love the game.

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I cheer for every accomplishment, fist bump after the goals, and praise the teamwork among these amazing little people. But I didn’t get here on my own. I wasn’t meant to coach my oldest’s first season, or even my precious squished-in-the-middle’s first team.

Instead, I was meant to watch and learn from kind, patient, parent coaches who honored the needs of my young children and helped nurture a love for a game that has had such an impact on our family. I needed my oldest to grow into his own role as an assistant coach, running the practices right beside me.

I’m so grateful for the coaches who nurtured my children as athletes and friends and am thrilled to count myself among them. And, of course, I’m still here to bring the snacks that are “straight fire.”

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Sarah Knutson

Sarah Knutson is a mama to three wildings. She is a teacher, writer, photographer, and avid camper living in Napa Valley. She loves late summer nights, snuggling by the fireplace, and always has ingredients on hand to make brownies. You can follow her adventures at Roaring Mama Lion to read more about her experiences as a mom and winemaker's wife.

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