BOSTON — Like many mothers who coach their children's teams, Patricia Herlihy was reluctant at first.
"I don't have a clue. I never played the game," she said when approached 12 years ago by another mother who was looking for help in coaching a kindergarten-age soccer team.
"But you're good with kids and a quick learner. I'll teach you," said the friend, an experienced soccer player.
Mrs. Herlihy, a research analyst who works from home in Sherborn, Mass., has diligently maintained her involvement in the Dover-Sherborn Soccer Club ever since, advancing from "crowd control" on the practice field to more sophisticated coaching duties.
The smallest acknowledgment from former team members can make her effort worthwhile. "I've had kids come back to me 10 years later and say, 'Hi, coach,' and it gives me chills because, at some level, I made a difference during a small period of their lives."
"She's always out to encourage us instead of insulting us and yelling at us," says Caleb Weintraub, a player on the Dover-Sherborn under-12 boys' team.
Herlihy assists head coach Harry Kehrer, who brings a wealth of knowledge from years spent playing recreational soccer in the US and Germany. Mr. Kehrer is the tactical expert, but Herlihy, who coaches barefoot, knows how to inspire and motivate.
"She's kind of the morale coach for the team," says her son, Jeff, who is the Jaguars' goalkeeper. "My mom knows how to get the best from kids."
Like many mothers who didn't play the sport they now coach, Herlihy considers her soccer knowledge insufficient to coach at higher levels. As a result, she will probably "retire" next year.
She has stayed on longer than most, however, convinced that children - both girls and boys - need female role models.
One challenge that women face in staying on, she says, is disillusionment with the male egos around them. "Men get caught up in their own competitive drive and forget the kids," she says. "Women get tired of that and say it's not worth their time and energy."
Herlihy recognizes that coaching can interfere with the mother-as-housekeeper role. "Dinner is definitely not on the table if you are out coaching, and the house may not be as clean," she says.
Jeff says his dad is the resident chef and that mealtime is very flexible. The family also eats out a lot.
Whenever the family breaks bread, though, there's no paucity of dinner conversation. "Soccer makes for some great family discussions," Herlihy says.