Sunday, February 24, 2013

Coaching is an act of love

This year marked the end of my short lived coaching career.  I had coached volleyball for 13 yrs, ranging from 8th grade teams all the way to head coaching varsity.  I resigned at the end of the season, as I was expecting my 2nd child and because I just felt like I didn't like where the "job" was headed.

Let me be completely honest, I love the sport of volleyball.  I think it is a fantastic sport for young ladies to learn about teamwork, goal setting and dedication.  I enjoy the strategies that can be employed to obtain wins and I love the off season weight room workouts.  I love spending time with the coaching staff as we are all close friends.  I love learning new plays and creating new drills (or researching for other ones) to utilize in practice.  I love the excitement before our first match.  I love the team building activities that we used for our girls, like kayaking, as they were literally taken out of their element and forced to work with other girls they may not know very well.  I loved it. 

What I didn't love, was the amount of time I was spending away from my family.  I missed my first born's first steps, I missed putting her to bed and reading her books at night.  I missed family dinners and having in depth conversations with my husband about school/learning/politics/ANYTHING.

On top of that, I did not particularly enjoy, was the unrealistic expectations from not the student athletes, but their parents.  I was spending more time with other people's kids than my own family.

I get it.  Parents want the best for the kids.  And they should have high expectations of their daughters as well as their daughter's coaches.  As a coach, I too have expectations for the girls as well as for myself.  I took my coaching career very seriously.  I felt that because I was the head coach and because I was the one who developed the carefully scripted practice plans, that I was the one who needed to watch film and complete stats.  I was the one who turned in the line up so I needed to be the one who analyzed the data.  I also needed to be present at every off season workout, because the kids work harder when they know the coach is watching.  I also needed to run fundraisers and a little kids camp, because there was equipment we needed to purchase for the program, and I was raised to work for my money, not expect a handout. 

Because of those self imposed expectations, I was working like a dog.  For less than $2/hr.  How many people do you know who would ride home on a bus only to get home by 11pm to eat leftovers or drive thru fast food only to plop down and watch that night's film so they could work on practice plans for the next day?  How many of you could stand to hear your 3 yr old daughter cry on the weekends when you had to leave for a tournament, as she wailed, "No mommy!  No more volleyball!"  My husband couldn't even attend matches this past season because our daughter would see me and attempt to run across the court since you were rarely seen at home much.

Oh yeah, and did I mention how the parents will scrutinize every substitution you make (or didn't make), question every bit of your coaching philosophy and expect you to make their child a superstar?  They would go to the athletic director and complain that you might not be "intense" enough or make statements like you "do not play to win".  As an added bonus, when you sit down with the athletic director at the end of the season to have your season review, you are told that you are patient to a fault and need to be more intense when the officials make a bad call.

Reminder: You get paid $2/hr.

Here's the thing that might surprise some of you.  Coaching is not about the money; it's about the kids.  It's about teaching them that hard work does pay off.  It's about learning how to fall, time and time again, only to get back up and work harder the next time.  It's about sweat and tears, collateral that you pay in the weight room because you want to jump higher, hit harder and be injury free for the season.  It's about teaching the girls the art of the game, how to love it and work hard while having fun.  It is about winning, but at what cost?  Many retired coaches and military generals will tell you that if you get people to respect you, to believe in you, they will do just about anything for/with you.

It's not about getting your daughter a college scholarship.  Because here's the thing, parents would tell me that they "are hoping for college scholarship" but when you would talk to the student athlete, she would confide in you that she doesn't want to play in college.  So not only are the parents trying to live vicariously through their kids, they aren't even communicating with them.  The scholarship offers and the college letters are more of a badge of honor to these parents - bragging rights, if you will.  Don't worry about how your daughter might fit into the college coach's coaching philosophy, it's about the money they saved you.  It has gotten so ridiculous that a head coach of a large university here in central Ohio told us that he received a letter from an interested athlete who was 7 yrs old (Her father had penned the 2 page letter, claiming she was going to become something great!).  Who is to say that this coach will even be coaching at the same institution 10 yrs from now?  Or that the child will even want to play volleyball when she's in high school? 

It's not about implementing a year round program because that's what the parents want.  It's not about breaking Ohio High School rules to have more contact time than what is permitted.  I love that because other coaches break rules (either coaching other sports or coaching at other schools), now we are expected to do the same, in order to be competitive within our conference.  I understand that policing every sport at every high school is next to impossible, but I was taught that rules are rules.    

The girls don't need a year round program because the majority of them already participate in USA volleyball/Jr Olympics during the off season (from December until June).  Some of the kids even play another sport besides volleyball (gasp!) and some, believe it or not, have jobs outside of school, not to mention they are also taking AP courses and are involved in National Honor Society/DECA/yearbook.  Kids need time to be kids, and this year round expectation is not only contributing to our children to being good at one single thing (whatever happened to being multifaceted?), but now we are seeing an abundance of overuse injuries in the shoulders and knees.  I discovered that I was a rarity when it comes to my coaching philosophy because I wanted my girls to play other sports.  By playing basketball or softball or running track, the girls were staying active but using other muscles that they didn't utilize while playing volleyball.  It prevented injuries.

I also find it absurd that coaches are expected to go ape shit when an official makes a bad call.  The thing is, I have been up on the official's stand for 6 yrs, so I know what it's like up there.  Referee's cannot see everything and not once have I ever changed a call simply because a coach was berating me.  Besides, what example does that set for my girls?  And if I do go bananas over a call, I distract my girls from doing the job I have trained them to do.  They need to feel in control of their own match, and shouldn't feel that what they are doing doesn't matter because the official will call in the other team's favor.

I didn't coach to be respected by parents.  I didn't coach to be liked by kids.  I certainly didn't coach because of the illustrious salary.  I coached because I am a teacher at heart, and I enjoyed sharing my knowledge, passion and experience with student athletes in a sport that I hold very dear.

I am sad to have ended my career, because it definitely didn't end the way I had planned or expected it to.  But I needed to start listening to my own advice: family comes first.  No amount of minimal salary can replace seeing my kids' first steps or having my daughter wrap her arms around my neck and say, "I love you, Mommy.  No more volleyball." 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dear Paul...

Dear Paul,

It's been a long time since we last spoke, since I saw you last.  Has it really been 9 years?  I remember February 21st and February 22nd, 2004 like it was yesterday; it surely doesn't feel like it's been almost a decade since I woke up on a Saturday morning to an empty house and the phone ringing.  I went to work that chilly morning, completely unaware of how our lives were going to be forever changed.  I will never forget the sound of Dad sobbing on the phone when I called him back, as he was at the hospital with you.  I will never forget how many people were crammed into that waiting room at St Ann's hospital and stayed with my parents all through the night.  And I will surely never forget how you woke me up at 4:42 am on Sunday, the 22nd, to tell me it was time for you to go.

I used to dream about you, but it's been awhile.  The first time I saw you in my dreams, I was standing at the end of the hall and you stepped out of your bedroom doorway, looking just like a typical 21 yr old should.  You were shirtless (as usual) and you flashed one of your signature smiles before I was startled awake.  I was so surprised to have seen you, that I woke myself up.

The next time I saw you, it was almost a year later.  Mom, Dad, Eric and I were sitting in church, at Central College Presbyterian Church (where Mom & Dad were married, where you and I were baptized, where Jason and I were married and where you were laid to rest) and we were all standing, singing a hymn.  Eric leaned over,  smiled and pointed to a few pews in front of us.  And there you were.  Singing along, with a book in your hand.  You turned your head, and smiled at us.

Again, I immediately woke up.

When I moved to Florida, I used to smell you in my car, even though you never rode in it.  In the mornings, in my apartment, there was a touch lamp that would always be on when I woke up.  Sometimes, it felt like Groundhog Day, where a certain song that reminded me of you would always be on when my alarm clock would go off or would come on the radio on my way to school.  I could feel you in the room.

You don't visit me anymore.

I like to think that it's because you have been reborn, to another place, another time.  You used to answer when I asked for your presence.  I could always count on you to be there when I was upset or scared.   We used to talk and I could hear your voice inside my own head.

I like to think that you're not "here" anymore because you know we're ok.  Because you know we miss you terribly, but we are not overwhelmed with sorrow or grief.  I know you were worried mostly about Mom, as you had every inkling to be.

Mom and Dad are doing ok.  I ask them all of the time how they are feeling, and they say "fine".  But you and I know that everything is not fine.  They lost their only son, to a senseless accident that shouldn't have happened.  You can tell when they are thinking about you.  Your friends still visit your grave and still post things on social media in remembrance.  You are surely missed, but not forgotten, Paul.

The first year you were gone, felt like a dream, like we were stuck in limbo or stuck in shock.  Nothing felt "real".  I would find myself trying to bargain and deal your life back; I would think that sometime soon I would wake up from this nightmare and everything would go back to being the way it used to be.  The second year was the toughest because reality set in.  We realized that you weren't coming back and the evidence was in the lives you saved through your generous and selfless gift of life.  One of the recipients was so moved by your donation, that he and his wife named their first child after you.  Because had it not been for you, he and his son, would never have existed.

An awful lot has happened since you left.  Jason and I bought the house you and I grew up in, and our children are growing up in the rooms you and I once called our own.  Juliette loves horses (go figure) and Price was just born 5 weeks ago.  They certainly have not replaced you, but they have definitely made it easier on all of us, sort of like welcomed distractions and another generation to love and spoil.  We've been remodeling the old Price homestead to make it more of our own home, but it still has the memories preserved in its foundation.  If you're able, you should stop by sometime to check it out.  Uncle Bean has been hard at work, updating almost every room in the house.  Remember when you kicked the hole in the wall in the front room?  Or when you and Eric chased each other in a water fight on the roof?

If there's one important lesson that I have learned from all of this, and it's that time doesn't heal all wounds - you just learn to live with the pain.  Every year you've been gone, it hasn't necessarily gotten easier.  The pain just becomes that less sharp and consuming.  Don't get me wrong, we still shed tears when we relive memories or wonder what you'd be doing if you were here with us today.

I know you'll never read this or fully understand the weight my words carry, but I can't help hoping that you might.  That you might be hovering over my shoulder as I type this to you.  That you might hear the words in my head.  That you might, just might, visit us again. 

Maybe I'll see you in another life, brother.

With love,