It was only a scrimmage and her team of young soccer players hadn't yet scored, but volunteer coach Patty David already felt like a winner.

The reticent 8-year-old boy whom she had spent most of the last practice encouraging, trying to get him to move more aggressively, finally was mixing it up with the best of the team.

"Yes, yes," David chanted, her eyes following the boy down the long green field behind Gunston Elementary School in southern Fairfax County.

He disappeared in the scramble and emerged kicking the ball hard at the head of the pack.

"Awwwright!" she yelled, jumping up like a cheerleader.

The moment was a triumph. "That's why I do this," she said later. "It's very personally gratifying."

David is one of more than 9,000 volunteer coaches who take charge of soccer, basketball, baseball and other youth teams coordinated by recreation departments in Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria. Still more volunteers coach teams sponsored by YMCAs, churches and other organizations.

"Weekend coaches are the backbone of the youth program. We wouldn't have much going without them," said John Blevins, sports coordinator for the Arlington County Recreation Department.

Like David, whose team includes her son, Ashton, many weekend coaches take on teams so their own children can play.

"But finding enough parents willing to do it is a problem," said Lee Hingle, one of four commissioners who recruit coaches for the 115 teams in the Lee-Mount Vernon Soccer Association.

"We badger, cajole and beg," he said.

In the end, it comes down to no coach, no team. So a parent who planned on only attending games steps up to the plate. But that parent often finds unexpected rewards.

"I've enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would," said Joe Wortham.

Wortham signed up thinking it was only for a season when his daughter, Sarita Anne, then a first-grader, started talking about how much she wanted to play soccer.

Now, four years later, Sarita Anne and her soccer ball are inseparable, and Wortham plans on coaching the Franconia team at least another few years.

"I quickly found out it was a way to do something for my daughter and at the same time help some other little kids become better human beings."

But weekend coaching isn't all fun and games.

Volunteer coaches say they have problems that go well beyond shaping a group of children into a team and being on tap for weekends. That, they say, is the easy part.

The real problems come in dealing with other parents.

It begins with finding enough volunteers to keep the schedule, organize the phone tree, maintain the equipment, bring drinks to practices and help with other tasks.

"I bet I spend at least an hour every night on the phone," Wortham said.

Sometimes coaches are successful in persuading parents to help, but parents often say they are too busy.

"They tell me, 'I work full time.' Well, so do I," said Wortham, a photographer for an intelligence agency. "I even have to insist with some that they show up for games."

Wortham's pet peeve is the parent who doesn't arrange to have a child picked up after practice.

"I've usually put in a long day and it's getting dark out there by the time we finish," he said. "But I'm not about to leave a young girl out there on the field by herself, so I wait and wait."

Once the game begins, another kind of parent becomes a coach's biggest headache -- and heartache. It's the complainer, the parent who scolds the child from the sidelines and picks fights with umpires.

"It's demoralizing for the child and the team," said Hingle. And it's a sticky situation for a coach.

"It breaks my heart to see a child being yelled at, but I'd never dictate to a parent," said David.

Instead she tries to correct the situation by reinforcing positive behavior.

Occasionally it's the child who makes the point. Hingle remembers a father who carped at his daughter throughout the first half of an important game.

Finally the little girl could take it no longer. She walked up to him and said loud enough for others to hear, "Dad, I'm doing the best I can."

Some coaches have discovered that pre-season meetings with parents, where expectations about their children's behavior are discussed, head off most problems.

"Setting limits for parents is critical," said David Brown, who practices child and adolescent psychiatry in Springfield.

"They need to know the team won't always win, that the idea is to create a positive environment where their child will learn to take reasonable risks."

In Northern Virginia, where many parents have high expectations for their children, coaches sometimes have to work with an overscheduled child.

"You get the kid who's got piano lessons, Hebrew lessons, riding lessons and what all. They come to ractice exhausted," Wortham said.

Now and then, there's a child who is plainly not interested and is there only because a parent has insisted.

"It never works," David said.

Wortham told the story about a young girl whose stepfather insisted she play.

"She hated him and kept saying to me, 'Why should I play because he wants me to?' Their problem was bigger than I could deal with."

After a few weeks, Wortham called a meeting with the two and told them they would have to work out their differences by themselves. The girl dropped out the next week.

By comparison, coaches say, their problems with the children are minor.

"You know my biggest problem with the kids? Leaving their stuff behind," said Wortham, as he dropped soccer balls into the huge net bag he carries them in.

At his feet was a jumble of bookbags, jackets and neon-colored water bottles. The girls had gone off to giggle together on an embankment beyond the field.

"Just watch. Some of this stuff will be there when they've gone."

But with all the problems -- endless nights on the telephone, household chores left undone for weeks on end -- the coaches say it's all worth it.

"I've never had more fun," David said.

"Besides," Wortham said, "what else would I be doing? Sitting around watching TV and drinking too much beer."