Growing up, I played Softball and Volleyball and participated on a Swim Team. I loved each sport in its own right and was proud to introduce them to my oldest daughter. Playing sports at a young age taught me the life lessons of teamwork, self-motivation and setting personal goals, overcoming self-doubt and failures, the sweetness of achievement and rewards, and the importance of mental and physical improvement. Especially for young female athletes, team sports can build strength and confidence in their bodies and their character.
A couple of years ago, I was itching to coach my daughter’s Softball team but I knew the commitment was too much, being that I was 2 months into a high-risk pregnancy and also had a 1-year-old in tow. It would have to wait. Maybe one day I could do it.
As it turned out, “one day” happened this Fall as a coaching opportunity presented itself to me for Volleyball. It was my daughter’s first season playing and while I still had the responsibility to care for my younger daughters (now 2 1/2 and 1), I really wanted to do this for my daughter and I decided we would just have to make it work. It was now or never. Does life ever get easier? Life never gets easier, it only gets different. So if you want to do something, the moment can always be NOW.
After coordinating with my husband’s work schedule, and a couple of babysitters, we made it happen. I can proudly say that I have coached a group of nine 9-11 year old girls for the past month, with only 2 games left in the season.
At the start of the season, I didn’t know what to expect – from myself or from the players. Heck, I didn’t even know how to set up the volleyball net and I hadn’t played the sport since I was 17. Would I be a good coach? Could my body still handle it? Would they listen to me? Would they learn and improve? Would we all have fun?
I decided that our motto for the season would be “Stronger, Smarter, Faster,” and that our benchmark for success would be personal successes and learning to work as a team. I let the players vote on their own team name and contribute to the ideas for themed practices. I taught them the basics of volleyball, encouraged them to push themselves, reminded them that they can do anything, cheered their successes, and helped them to recover from and improve upon their failures.
“There’s no glue on your shoes,” “Don’t stand like Statues,” and “Don’t let the ball hit the Hot Lava,” were the only negative phrases I was fond of using. Otherwise, I motivated the girls by teaching them team cheers, having themed practices, giving them candy rewards, and recognizing two Most Valuable Players at the end of each game. Although I tried to create an overall positive environment, I think I was hard on them too – but in the right ways. Competition is not a bad thing – on the contrary – whenever I set up competitive situations in practice and in games, I watched the teammates’ faces light up with excitement. I watched them groan, but smile too, when I would “punish” them for not listening or for not trying by making them do jumping jacks or run a lap around the gym. I believe in positive reinforcement, but also personal accountability, and I think a little bit of tough love this season has helped to instill a love for the game and an “I can do it even if it’s hard” attitude in the girls.
The collective messages of the season have resonated with the team. Though they were goofy during practices (and in the midst of many games) and our record was very poor (5th place of 6 teams in the league), it has been worth it – both for them and for me. I have watched girls who have never played the sport before go from being hesitant, nervous, and even scared, to confident, aggressive athletes who scream “MINE!” as they run to the ball, smile and celebrate their successes, and shake off their mistakes. I watched one player struggle to serve the ball over the net all season until this past game – she not only served it over the net, but continued to score 3 points for our team. I almost cried. I watched the players sweat and get red-faced from exertion, I watched them run and even dive to keep the ball off the floor (or out of the hot lava). I watched them laugh and hug one another and cheer.
Not only that, but I have watched myself grow. I have been reminded how strong I am, that I can be a good role model, and that there is always something new to learn and to share. I can now easily set up the volleyball net. I don’t use any notes for practices anymore, and I developed a system for keeping track of the girls’ activity on the court during games. I have sweated and gotten out-of-breath (very out-of-breath). I have worn volleyball ribbons in my hair and team colors. I have laughed out loud at the silliness of the game and the goofiness of the players. I have become a kid again.
But don’t get me wrong, it has been frustrating too. I have been tired of repeating the same things over and over again: “Get in READY POSITION,” “Call the ball,” “Watch the server.” I have experienced annoyance as the girls stared blankly without moving an inch as the ball hit the floor, rendering a point for the opposing team. And I have been hard on my own daughter especially- watching her more than the other girls, almost trying to telepathically get her to be more aggressive, to move to the ball, and to have confidence in herself on the court.
Like being a parent, as “Coach,” I learned a new level of patience and respect for these tiny athletes. I learned new ways to motivate the kids into action, tried to forgive them when they weren’t listening, and recognize when they were getting too tired to learn anymore for the day. It’s amazing to witness their own physical limitations and their almost limitless energy clash on the court at each practice. Every kid wants to be better. Every kid wants to be the best. My job this season was the show them how they can do it – to show them how to measure their success against themselves more than others.
Coaching is such an amazing way to get involved in the lives of your kids. If you ever have the slightest opportunity to make it work with your schedule, do it. You may be surprised by the reward and confidence both you and your child experience. After all, is there anything better than being called, “Coach Mommy”?