Being a head coach is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be - I mean, I figured I would be busy creating and running practices, managing paperwork and teaching a new coach the intricities of a volleyball court but I hd noidea the time I would spend running over practices in my head, trying to figure out the best way to make my team better.
Coaching is a selfless job. In Craig's words - if it's a win, it's because the girls played well and if you lose, it's because you did a poor job coaching. I don't really "get" anything out of coaching middle school volleyball - there's no extra stipend if I win or go to the play-offs and nor is my name in the paper for having an unbreakable winning streak.
Middle school volleyball is strictly about the kids and maybe that's why it's so difficult for me when my team loses....which, by the way, we've been doing a lot of lately. I am a big believer in setting kids up for success, whether it's by their parents or in the classroom. Kids can only be as successful as the opportunities placed before them because they really are such a clean slate and learn strictly through experiences. If I don't give my players the opportunity to learn a new task that is going to help them win, then they won't be successful on the court.
And oftentimes what makes the difference in middle school teams being successful on the court is the off-season opportunities to play volleyball. Unfortunately, I left a school where 7 out of 12 girls on the current Division I team played club ball in the spring last year...and it shows. I am now at a school where only a few girls played club ball in the spring last year...and it shows. One of my new girls asked me today as we watched my old school dominate at the tournament: "Coach, do you wish that you were still coaching there? Be honest...because they're really good." Ooh...how does one answer that? Do I love to win...of course...I wouldn't be a coach if I wasn't an ambitious and competitive person. Would it have been nice to have a chance at winning the tournament today...well, yeah...especially for a first year head coach. But I also watched all the silly dances and cheers that my old girls did in the middle of the floor and I got disgusted. Were we that cocky when Beri and I coached together? Did other schools look at us in a mixture of disgust at the confidence, and jealousy at the talent? Or do those other schools know the deeper importance of what we are doing as coaches...and know that it truly isn't about the wins at this age, but instead about the lessons about teamwork, dedication and hard work that are learned? I'm not sure how I responded to my freckly-faced setter, but it was something along the lines of "no...I know I made the best decision for my relationship with my fiance."
I think the bottom line is that girls will come and go, talent will rise and fall...but the positive impact that this move has made on Craig and I will remain forever.
I love volleyball and I love the fact that I get to know the girls on such a deeper and more personal level than many of their other teachers because of the time that we spend together. I couldn't really tell you who I had for 8th grade English or 7th grade Science...but I can recite the names of almost all of my coaches: Coach Daniels, Coach Johnson, Coach Adams, Coach Saye, Coach Durham, Coach Honc and Coach DeBord. I know the potential impact that I have on these young ladies by what I say, how I act and how I interact with them. But I also know that, despite my love for the game and for impacting girls' lives...there will someday be a beautiful baby (or babies) that will come into my life that will wipe away every desire to spend long hours in a gym. Coaching is Craig's gift in this life...it is his passion and his challenge. It stimulates his mind - trying to figure out the other teams offense or defense and exactly how he is going to exploit every single ounce of it. I love watching him coach the young girls on his club team because he is so gentle with them...and I can always picture a little curly headed brunette with a ribbon in her hair standing in the huddle, ready to play for her daddy. Having said that, Craig comes to every one of my volleyball games and I think he gets a kick out of watching me get so animatedly excited when my girls do well. In a way, he has watched me grow from a wild child, fresh out of college with no "real world" experience into a (mostly) poised and mature woman capable of both running a volleyball program and hosting a delicious dinner party. I know he is proud of me and I know that he is supportive of this step that I have taken in my life, but I know that it's not forever...and I'm okay with that because I have faith that the next step, whenever it happens, will be much greater and more joy filled.
I coached with one woman named Beri for three years. Over the course of those three years of sitting the bench together, sharing Starbucks on Friday mornings and guarding the 1200 hallway of our middle school together during passing periods, we've shared many things and I think learned many life lessons together as well. She has taught me to choose my battles when dealing with students and how to set appropriate goals for different teams and to rejoice when those goals are met. The most recent lesson however, has been on a much deeper level. As teachers, we generally tend to be selfless and giving people who put other people first before asking anything for ourselves. During the hours of 7:30 and 5:30, Monday through Friday...it's not about me - it's about what the kids need and what do I have to do to make sure those needs are met. Therefore, as a single or married without children women, it is very easy to forget about ourselves or our families because there really isn't anyone who is being burdened or traumatized by our long hours. Once Beri found out that she was pregnant last December, I witnessed a remarkable change in her - immediately her first and foremost concern became her child, her health and her family. If she needed to take time off to take care of herself, she did. If there was a scheduling conflict between her family and school, school came second. Now that Craig, Angie and I are a family...she really inspired me to put the Cook-Nelson household first. Because at the end of the day, lessons...students...paperwork, it will all come and go but you only have one family in your life and if you neglect it, not only will you be miserable...but you could lose it. I'm not saying that now everything is about ME, but I certainly have learned where to draw the line. A few weeks ago I was running a 99.7 (and rapidly climbing) fever during the middle of the school day. Despite my tears that welled up in my eyes at the thought of missing that night's 8th grade volleyball game, once I left the building my only thought was taking care of myself. I think I've just realized that all the wins in the world will never be able to replace the joy I have when spending an evening sitting at the dinner table recounting the day's events with Craig followed by cuddle time with Angie.