Team Leaders

By day, they are lawyers, teachers and engineers. But at night and on the weekends, they trade their suits for sweats, their laptops for clipboards and their cell phones for whistles. They become coaches.

Volunteer coaches are the heart of athletic programs across the Triangle. It is a job where paychecks come as high-fives, bonuses are measured in smiles and vacations are on-the-road tournaments.

Most coach their own children. Others take on a new crop of eager young faces each year. It takes patience, flexibility and dedication to be a volunteer coach. But most of all, it takes a love of the game.

Four area coaches give us a closer look at the world of youth sports from soccer to basketball to baseball.

Coach Times Two

Sundae Lewis of Cary is the mother of two soccer players. Weekends are spent driving from game to game after a week filled with two practices. It is a constant whirl of uniforms, shin guards and shoes.

But Lewis is more than the traditional soccer mom. She is also the coach. This season, she is coaching her son Brian’s team – a coed group of 6-year-olds. She is taking a break from also coaching her daughter Tabor’s team of 9-year-olds. For several years, Lewis coached both children during the same season.

When her family moved here from New York in 1998, Lewis started coaching her daughter’s soccer team with CASL, the Capital Area Soccer League based in Raleigh. She had played a variety of sports as a child, but not soccer. When her son was old enough for the mini-kickers program, Lewis also signed up to coach.

“It is a whole lot of fun,” she says. “I want to be involved with my own children and especially like working with the little kids. It is very rewarding to see the kids improve as the season goes along.”

Patience is the biggest virtue for a coach, Lewis says. A willingness to learn more about the sport and flexibility about practices and games also are keys to being a successful coach.

“You have to be adaptable when working with little kids,” she says. “If you start a drill and they are completely bored, you have to forget that one and quickly move on. Little kids have very different attention spans so you have to constantly be moving, changing.”

Some parents of budding athletes can be a challenge. Lewis says it is important to have a parents’ meeting at the beginning of the season to emphasize rules and conduct expectations.

“I have really good parents,” she says. “Most parents really get into it during the games. But is important for all parents to remember not to yell at their child or the referees. The primary goal is just to have fun.” Lewis is among a growing handful of women who are coaching CASL soccer. She is co-coaching with a father on her son’s coed team this season. More women playing high school and college soccer will result in more soccer coaches in the future, Lewis says.

“When these women become moms,” she says, “they will want to get involved in coaching their children.”

Making a Difference

Frank Jacobs has been a friend, mentor and disciplinarian in Durham’s youth recreation programs for more than 30 years. As chairman of the recreation activities at First Calvary Baptist Church, he oversees baseball and basketball programs for hundreds of boys and girls of all ages.

It must be in the genes because Jacobs’ father, Frank Sr., was the programs’ coordinator for many years.

Keeping kids off the streets and out of crime is a major focus of the church’s sports programs, which are open to everyone, Jacobs says. Many of the players come from single-parent homes or live with grandparents or other relatives. Jacobs credits the sports programs with keeping many players in school. Some have gone on to play high school or college ball.

“Many kids can turn around once they put something in their lives that requires discipline,” he says. “We try to give them something to work toward and see they can progress with some hard work.”

Jacobs calls his coaching style stern, but fair. He works hard to be consistent with all players, no matter their athletic abilities. Being honest with the kids also is important.

Getting his start in youth sports in Durham, Jacobs played on teams at Hillside High School. He earned his living as a bricklayer, often going straight to coach from the construction site. He still coaches occasionally, but primarily oversees the church’s athletic programs.

“We can’t reach out and help all the kids, but we can reach out and help many of them,” Jacobs says. “We just want to keep making a difference.”

Lifelong Coaching

Nan Hannah of Raleigh coached high school basketball for eight years. Today, she is a lawyer. But she still can be found on the basketball court as a coach at the Cary Family YMCA.

Hannah is celebrating her 10th year coaching both girls and boys at the local Y. It is an experience she thrives on, often coaching for 20 weeks straight in both the fall and winter leagues. She also has coached middle school boys in the Y’s summer program.

“I just love coaching, and I love working with kids,” Hannah says simply. “It is a great outlet for me. No matter how bad a day I have had at work, my mood picks up when I get to the basketball court.”

Hannah played basketball at Hunt High School in Wilson and then at Furman University in South Carolina. She attended law school after coaching basketball. After moving to the Triangle, she searched for a volunteer coaching position. Her nephew worked out at the Cary Y, and Hannah soon got involved there.

Typically she coaches fourth and fifth grade boys or girls. Often she will coach one in the fall league and move straight into the winter league with the other.

As a coach, Hannah emphasizes the importance of teamwork, working toward goals and learning new skills. Youth basketball programs at the Y stress fun and learning over winning. Hannah makes sure that each child gets to play the same amount of time, and all are encouraged to excel at their level. In short, everyone is a winner on the court.

Like Lewis, Hannah holds a pre-season parents’ meeting where she reminds parents that they are role models for the “little eyes” on the basketball court.

“If children see you screaming and yelling, they will probably think that is the way to act,” Hannah tells parents. “I have not had any problems with my parents.”

Coaching boys and girls is really no different, she says. Sometimes Hannah hears boys on the other teams mumble about playing the team coached by the “girl.” She takes this as a compliment.

Many of the kids and parents want Hannah to move up with them as their coach. She plans to continue on coaching “until they don’t want some old woman coaching,” she says with a laugh.

Veteran on the Field

Jay Reeves is a veteran coach. With four children, he has been coaching baseball or softball with the Chapel Hill recreation department for 14 years. It is a great opportunity to spend time with his children and to stay in the game.

“There is a place on the field for everyone, no matter their size or shape,” Reeves says. “You don’t have to be big or tall or fast to play.” Reeves developed his love for the game as a child. He played high school baseball, college intramurals and church softball. Now he is coaching one of his daughters, Mary Ann, a seventh-grader at Phillips Middle School.

Sports enable students to be part of something bigger than themselves, Reeves says. They learn the values of working together for a common goal and of developing their own abilities.

“The key is to come prepared and enjoy yourself,” Reeves says. “I never emphasize the winning part. We just want to see the players have a good time.”

Players who especially catch a coach’s eye are those who have a positive attitude and will work hard. Coaches also admire good listening skills, he says.

Reeves enjoys starting with a team each season and seeing them evolve together and improve as a group. As part of the fun, Reeves teaches his teams to read a box score in the newspaper and takes them to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill softball or baseball game.

“It is nice to see them hold their heads up high as they improve during the season,” he says.