I’d already gotten Shayla to the first practice of softball league, had put on my team shirt, met the coach, and offered to help carry up the equipment to the field when it hit me: I was a little league conscientious objector, and have never learned the rules of the game. I’d pray a ball never came my way, and finally pouted enough that my mom agreed to let me drop out. In basketball in middle school the other team would sometimes pass me the ball because they knew I’d just get flustered and pass it right back.

“Um, can I help carry up some of these, of this, this, um, stuff?” I offered. What was I thinking? I had a cold, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did anyone see my deer in the headlights look?

I guess I signed up to be “team manager” of my daughter’s softball team the same way I got on the PTA, or went to graduate school. There must have been individual decisions and steps that led there, but it felt like I drifted along and suddenly, pow! I’m supposed to have something I want to write a thesis about.

The team manager just organizes parent communication and stuff, it’s not a coaching role. Having Shayla participate in a team sport did seem like a great idea, and several wonderful, trustworthy friends just loved it for their daughters. But I never stopped to think whether maybe they also liked sports. Aside from bowling I’m hard pressed to think of a sport that doesn’t seem dull to watch and if I have to participate inspires fear, aversion, or even terror. Uh oh.

I’m not bad at hiding panic (I grew up in Texas and never learned the rules of baseball, football, or basketball!), so we unloaded the bases, the bats and helmets and gloves (I knew those names without help), the “T”s that hold the balls for bat practice, some weird thing that’s for the dirt near home plate, or maybe it’s used on all that dirt that has no grass? I had the team rosters (I’m good at rosters). Our team coach told me he was excited but nervous, he’s a long-time sports guy but hasn’t coached kids before. Super friendly. His daughter and my daughter eyed each other. Then all the other parents and kids showed up, and I had to hand out T-shirts and do my duties. Intros and practice just took over.

Helping with the drills was easy enough—no holding the bat without a helmet on, keep a good distance from others when they have the bat, line up so you can throw to your practice partner. I understood all these and was able to help. Even though I didn’t think I was to be involved with the sports part, I guess my inner control freak won out for a bit. “Let’s get that helmet on sweetie” I hear myself say.

After snack we had the first “practice” that looked like a game; half the kids out into the field, half at “bat,” a pitcher-less game where each girl swung at the ball sitting on the little pole (the T!) and once it moved in any direction they practiced running to a base, while the fielders tried to get the ball. Characteristically Shayla was enthusiastic and wanted to get the ball every time. Every every every time. “Great hustle Shayla, but the hard part of your job is you have to stay in your area, and get balls only when they come that way.” Great coaching, and I can see what a valuable life lesson it would be, if she can learn it.

Coach needed some adults out in the field to help, so out I went. I had a vivid flash of bored, terrifying passages standing and praying no ball would come my way. Had I done a whole season of little league before bailing out? Or maybe I played later in school. I remembered something about all the kids in uniforms. Had I worn one?

I’m proud to say I held it together. Even with childhood sports trauma flashbacks I realize that I can do all these tasks better than these first graders. That being a dad will sometimes mean I have to get out of my comfort zone. The other moms and dads were super nice to me, though it was clear they’ve all played, if not all their lives then as kids, and every one of them could easily kick my ass at softball. But who knows? We’re starting with the basic skills. I might pick up a few things along the way. At a minimum I feel I’ll be able to not wince when a ball’s in the air anywhere near me. While my daughter learns to be a team player and to share the spotlight, I might even learn how to enjoy the game. Stranger things have happened.