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Canada Amplify: Sports was out of my league. Then I signed up to coach my son’s T-ball team

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I’m not a sports person. Never played sports, never watched sports, never been interested.

And yet, for two months this cold, wet spring, I found myself at a ballpark wearing a baseball glove for the first time in my life, helping coach my son’s T-ball team.

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I’m Lori Fazari, and I work on promoting The Globe’s Arts and Life content to our readers (while sitting as far as possible from the Sports section).

Growing up the daughters of immigrant parents meant that sports were never a priority for my sister and me. My thing was reading and I did a lot of it, developing a love of words that led me to journalism. Even as an adult, my fitness activities consist of Pilates and yoga, gentle and solo pursuits.

Before becoming a parent, I used to cheer from the sidelines at my niece and nephew’s games. I knew if I had kids, I wanted them to participate in sports as well and not grow up like I did, feeling like gym class was an exercise in humiliation. I especially delighted at my niece’s competitive soccer career, which strengthened her already burgeoning self-confidence. I wanted the same if I had a girl.

So when my husband and I had a son and then a daughter, we knew sports would become part of our lives. When my son was four, I signed him up for baseball in the spring and soccer in the summer (and learned the folly of overcommitting when they overlapped in June and we had to haul ourselves to three games a week).

One night midway through the soccer season, the coach was late. I hate standing around, so I led the kids onto the field and got them stretching. Looking at the other teams practising around us, I figured it’d be good if the kids chased after the ball. They followed my lead and I got a kick out of it. It made me wonder if I could take a more active role in my son’s teams.

This winter, when the T-ball organizer sent a plea for more parent coaches, I volunteered. “I can’t guarantee I can catch the ball, but I love to cheer the kids on and see them have fun and get exercise.” He replied that catching wasn’t a requirement.

Family and friends laughed when I told them. “What do you know about baseball?” But, I thought, if I was going to push my kids to try new things, it was only fair that I push myself too. And if I wanted them to love sports – and gain the benefits of physical activity – I needed to show them I’m not just tagging along.

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At the first baseball clinic, as our team’s head coach and other assistant coach chatted about the Raptors playoff game that night, I tuned out and watched the kids swinging at the tee. I’m a phoney, I thought. What am I doing here?

It turns out coaching a dozen five-, six- and seven-year-olds to play T-ball is 90 per cent babysitting, 10 per cent baseball. The league’s rules were loose and no one was keeping score. Thanks to all the Jays games my dad watched when I was young, I knew enough to correct the kindergartner who called it the “drugout.”

I’d warm the kids up with stretches (thank you, Pilates instructor!), then we’d line them up to practise catching and throwing. With the baseball glove, an early Mother’s Day present from my husband and son, catching was easier than I’d worried. Don’t overthink it, I’d remind myself, just keep your eye on the ball. At the end of the games my hands and throat would be sore from all the clapping and cheering.

When my husband was working and couldn’t keep an eye on our daughter, she’d camp out in the dugout with a blanket, water bottle, snack and colouring book piled on her lap. Next year she’ll be old enough to register for blastball, an introduction to T-ball. When we play in the backyard and she takes a turn at the tee or dons a baseball glove, I marvel at how – especially with an older brother paving the way – sports will be part of her childhood.

But I’ve also been thinking more about girls in sports and how to keep them engaged even as professional female athletes continue to face challenges. Will my daughter like playing on a team of mostly boys, or will she feel more comfortable joining the all-girls’ baseball league that started a few years ago in Toronto? I’m thrilled she saw me on the field twice a week instead of just packing the snacks and sitting in the stands. It was also gratifying to know the only girl on our team gravitated to me during practice and games.

I’m still not a sports person, but I’ve made little steps. The first time I heard a kid shout “Coach Lori,” it took a beat to register – he meant me.

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What else we’re listening to:

Podcasts have been part of my commute to work for more than a decade. In between episodes of This American Life, Radiolab and The Daily, I binge seasons of documentary-style shows. A recent favourite is First Day Back, hosted by Montrealer Tally Abecassis. Each season she tracks a person’s comeback after a major life event, starting with her own return to work after an extended maternity leave. It has all the elements I love in a podcast: great writing and storytelling and emotional moments that make you want to cry or laugh – the kind of laugh you have to stifle because you’re sitting on a train and don’t want to freak out the other passengers.

Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at amplify@globeandmail.com.

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