Being a teacher/coach is a hard, tricky business. As a teacher, I feel like I work as hard as a can to often be thanked with a lack of respect or so much entitlement that I wonder if I make an impact at all. The life of teaching 13 and 14 year olds, right? What makes it more difficult is that many of the kids who I have a great connection with I will never see again after 8th grade. That is part of being a teacher and it is fine. I have to be self confident in knowing that in some way I made a positive impact. Sometimes it gets really lonely though. Every once in awhile, however, a student will reaffirm those thoughts with a nice thank you note. This year, probably my most frustrating year as a teacher, was all put into perspective when I had one student write me a three page letter at the end of the year. The letter said that my influence literally saved her life. That letter was so moving and allowed me to know that what I did as a teacher this year mattered to someone. It allowed me to put all of the other frustrations into perspective.
As a coach, I sacrifice so much of my personal time for little, or in the case of my summer team, no pay. Much of this time includes behind the scenes activities not seen by players or parents; running the website, constantly going to the bank, balancing the budget, endless meetings with the apparel company, schedule changes, communicating with other coaches, practice plans, game plans…showing up 30 minutes before everyone else and leaving 30 minutes after…talking with frustrated parents. Being a mentor, a big brother, and a guidance counselor is also part of the job, although those aspects get lost when one simply looks at success in terms of wins and losses.
My friends and colleagues will often look me in the eye and ask, “You do that for seven months and don’t get paid? Are you crazy? Why?”
My response is always the same: I do it because I love it…I love the kids…I love the team.
But what happens when frustration starts to overtake the “I love it” part? Second guessing begins to take place and further frustration begins to manifest itself into self doubt.
I have never had trouble motivating a team as a coach. My philosophy is to try to be as positive and as encouraging as possible while still being strict and passionate enough to get the most out of my players. I work hard to bring the kids together as a family on the field. The problem is, with teenage girls, there are 13 different individuals who respond to 13 different ways in terms of how they need to be coached. We are now 32 games into the summer and I am not sure I am doing the best job and I do not know why. Sometimes amidst the frustrations, I may lose the positive angle. Finding the balance between being encouraging and demanding is something that I am not sure if I will ever perfect, but God knows I am trying.
So what will make the rest of this summer season successful? I am not really sure how to define success at this point. Last year, we were a brand new team with little experience and we were always the youngest team in every tournament. I was content with playing hard and with passion, whether we won or lost. Other coaches would come up to me after games and compliment how hard our team played. That has not really happened much this season and the lack of togetherness, passion, and desire is eating away at me. This year, we are much better, much more experienced, not nearly as young, and have been in nearly all of our games; we have won much more often. Yet, for some reason this season does not seem as successful as last season. Something is missing, and I am struggling to place my finger on how to fix it. One of my assistant coaches says it is grit…desire. Can you teach grit or desire or is it something that is innate? I am not sure but I will continue to try to instill those qualities into our girls.
The expectations are higher for this team this season, and with those expectations comes more pressure. But why does pressure have to be a bad thing? We all need to learn how to embrace the pressure and channel it into something positive. It is my job to teach that, and I need to do a better job of it. But it also takes a desire from the players to want to learn, to get better, and play as hard as they can every single pitch, no matter if it is in practice or in games. I want to be met half way…if I am giving my best and my time, I want it to be reciprocated by everyone involved. So the question then is, am I giving my best? The answer is and has always been yes. Yes, I am trying the best that I can, and therefore, I have to be confident enough to not become frustrated but to continue to help our team get better.
In the end, all I want is to have my players look back on this experience a few years from now and say, “That was a good experience. I learned a lot, made life long friends, and enjoyed being part of that team.” It would not hurt if they could also add that we won some games along the way. All I want them to know is that I tried the best that I could day in and day out, and I hope that they can say the same. If each player can say that at the end of the season, then that is how I will measure success.
*I also want to give some special shout outs to special teachers and coaches who influenced me in a positive way, because I know you do not hear it enough:
Mrs. McGill – I probably would not have graduated college without learning how to write from you…and now I have a Master’s degree, too. Thank you!
Mr. Shunneson and Mrs. Shep – I always hated math, but both of you made it one of my favorite classes each year in high school. Shun, you were also a great first boss to have when I became a teacher. Shep, you are just a great person and made learning fun. Thank you!
Ronald Davis and Randy Bergs – You were the two best baseball coaches I ever had. I never really had a chance to thank you, and now Coach Bergs has passed away. It is too bad I cannot call him right now and tell him how much I appreciated him. I will never forget 7th and 8th grade baseball, or the championship that came along with it.
Mrs. Carmichael – The scariest and greatest 4th/5th grade teacher ever.
Coach Stock – Thank you for coaching me in college. I learned a lot on how to and how not to coach from you. Thank you for doubting me, because it made me a stronger person. You taught me grit like I had never been taught before, even if you did not do it on purpose. You once told me that you could not wait until I was a coach so that I could understand just how difficult it was, and that was the best thing you ever told me.
Softball may seem like a little thing, but it is our little thing. As I said on Saturday morning to the girls:
“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.” ― Kurt Vonnegut