I cannot imagine a greater way to stay close to my kids, have fun, and encourage other kids. There was never anything like this when I was a kid, and if there was I wouldn't have been able to be involved. I have had jobs all my life, and extra-curricular activities in school were very few, because I had to work. So, when my kids started getting involved, I swore I would let them do what they wanted and be encouraging them all the way. After some disappointments with coaches, we started to coach a lot of different teams and sports. Then we found CPS--we were hooked.

I also coach for those other kids--kids who maybe wouldn't have the opportunity because the parents are not involved. I hate to see a child miss out because his parents are not there--I was one of those kids year's ago.

I really think that the close relationship I have with all my kids (and their friends) is because of all the hours we have spent building, painting, gluing, joking around, being spontaneous, problem solving, eating, cleaning, band-aiding, and the list goes on and on. I can talk to "my kids" about boys, girls and cars; gear-ratio and electrical configuration still have me stumped, but I can pretend I understand--the point is that I am the team manager and parent and friend.

The biggest benefit is how young this makes you! I really feel that this program lets the kids be kids that much longer. They can still be pirates, cavemen, space aliens, cowboys and the group after them might be boys in dresses. What fun! When the kids see how silly everyone can be, why would they want to grow up! I know I cannot be as old as my driver's license says because I am having way too much fun "playing with the kids".

Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, you do not get to have a clean house. Yes, a home cooked meal is a major event. . . but, the memories are priceless! And when you have that team member that his teacher says to let him try DI (We do not usually turn any child away--we work out the teams to accommodate everyone if at all possible.) and this child sits in the corner for three weeks, not speaking, not moving, doesn't want to help, doesn't ..doesn't. And you go home going Why..Why..Why did I get talked into this. And then you see a spark one day, "how about if we try this" and then he starts helping and growing. And three months later--he is in front of an audience, loud and proud, working that project and talking the judges ear off. The parents catch you as you are gathering up things and give you a sincere "thank you for all the time and effort". And you see this child get his first ribbon with his team--the tears have to come. It is the difference in a child's life that you can make.

It is not all fun, and there are hard decisions. Not every team member works out. Not every team reaches their goal. But, if they know that’s okay, and they can come back to try again next year, you have to keep growing right along with them. . . the blue ceramic dishes can be washed tomorrow.

Why Do we Do This – Part 2

What is gained? Let's see, the child who wouldn't even sing with a choir he was so full of Stage-fright is now, constantly the "lead" in every skit, has joined the theater group at school, is confident when asked to do a presentation in front of his class.

The girl who has only been "cute" learned how to use a jigsaw and wire a battery to a light. She discovered she was an organizer, a leader and a person who was capable of doing anything.

The boy with a learning disability, who struggled in school, found out that he was amazing at figuring out how to make things with his hands.

The girl that was socially maladjusted in 5th grade learned how to get along and contribute in a group. The team didn't even want her on the team because she was "weird". However, the sense of belonging extended far beyond the team to school where she is now a member of the Jr National Honor society, a starter on the A -basketball team and also part of the theater group.

The confidence all of the kids gain from belonging, and doing, and solving.

The TM who otherwise would have been merely a spectator of these kids lives is now a confidante, a friend, and a presence.

What is gained, whether it is a great solution, an ok solution or a "we just didn't have time or inclination solution", is the benefit of a common struggle with fellow human beings. The focus should be on overcoming the challenge, as in anything in life, if the goal is to win first place every time ,the odds are you will be disappointed. However, the teams who do win are not hyper-competitive, they are devoted.

Why in the world do we keep doing this? – Part 3

I ask myself that question a lot. Between the lack of parental support, kids constantly bickering, and the infamous smoldering couch, I think that's a fair question. This is a team that has never advanced beyond regionals, too.

So, what keeps us going? It isn't the masochistic TM's. No, it just seems that way. We don't love pain.

It's the kids. It's my son, who every other day says, "I can't wait for DI to start again!"

It's the child who sits there without saying a word, taking everything in. When she does speak, it's worth ten times what the chatterboxes say.

It's watching four boys stop arguing with each other and claiming credit for each others ideas for long enough to create a simple, yet highly elegant device.

It's the boy who barked at me, "Don't touch that! It's interference!" (I swear I was just admiring the design, but I appreciate where he was coming from.)

It's the learning that goes well beyond the classroom. It's learning from the kids.

It's watching one of my son's many hare-brained ideas (he gets 'em in and out of DI) become a reality and win a DaVinci award.

And finally, it's watching a group of kids argue and fuss with each other for months, and finally have it all (sort of) come together at one moment - watching them take a bow in unison. Somehow that makes it worth it.

The Function of a TM

One very hard thing to realize (that can become easier with practice, but never seems to disappear) is that the team's performance is not a reflection upon you, but a reflection on the kids. How they do is “their” problem, not yours.

Your task is providing a structure. Part of that structure is in teaching the kids skills: the skills of play directing and of make-up use, to mention two. Part of that structure is providing a place and time for them to do the work. Another part is teaching problem-solving skills. Part is character development. A large part is teaching time-management skills (and, for the younger teams, keeping them on track and helping them plan).

James K. Gruetzner, Albuquerque, NM

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