I have a new title among my 8th grade Division I volleyball players. I am no longer "Coach" but instead "Momma."
Sounds a little creepy, right? Let me give you the background.
I have a wonderful group of girls this year - they aren't necessarily the most athletically talented girls I've ever coached BUT they are the best listeners. They generally trust me and my volleyball knowledge and when I tell them to do something different or make an adjustment to their game they do it and voila - they become a better player and a better team. I would much rather coach a group of kiddos that listen and apply what I tell them than a team full of stubborn athletes.
There is one special young lady who has a very unique spark that is truly God given - she is full of life, incredibly witty and lights up the court and her teammates with her enthusiasm and energy. But there is one thing that she struggles with in volleyball - her height. She's my shortest player (but with the highest jump) and desperately wants to hit as easily as the taller girls. This has been such a challenge for her that it landed her in tears one morning practice after a game. She and I had a heart to heart about the challenges in life that God gives us and how this is just one of those things she is going to struggle with during volleyball. I promised her that we would work on her hitting to find a way for her to be successful and have the glory that comes along with getting a great hit over the net.
Last night was our 3rd district game and I was a little nervous seeing how terrible the girls had played last week and this week we were playing a VERY tough team. From the start of the very first volley I knew something special was going to happen. My first six girls on the court were playing phenomenally - talking it up, serving well, passing perfectly and taking risks by hitting the ball on the third touch.
By the way - if you don't understand volleyball, I totally apologize for all the "lingo" I'm throwing around in this post.
The game was neck and neck, back and forth for every point and I was going hoarse from all the yelling, albeit it was GOOD yelling...but yelling nonetheless. I called a time out and I looked at my little one and told her if she got the opportunity to hit "her" hit - she has a great back row attack (a jump and hit from behind the 10' line). She and the other setting looked at me like I was crazy and they tried to convince me that physically that would never happen because of their position on the court, blah, blah, blah. I cut them off and looked at her and said "If the opportunity happens...hit the dang ball from the back row. I know you can do it." She looked at me again like I was crazy but just said "Ok coach," and we broke from the huddle and the team returned to the court.
And what would you know....in the next rally, the front row setter set the ball and there she comes from right back, flying through the air and KABOOM! She sends if flying over the net, knocks down a member of the opposing team and we win the point. The gym completely erupted as did the six girls on the court and the six sitting next to me on the bench. The team collapsed on my special little girl and I wish I had a picture of the joy on her face.
After I settled down from the excitement, I had tears in my eyes.
I love my girls. That much I already knew. I put my heart and soul into coaching them and as an emotional person I can't help but get attached to my 8th graders each year.
But this year is different. Maybe it's that I'm a mother now and I look at each of these girls as someone else's daughter. Maybe it's just a special group of girls that I've formed a unique bond with. I don't know. But I wanted that hit for this girl. Not because I wanted to get the team a point....but I wanted her to feel the joy, the pride and the accomplishment of that moment when you hit the ball and are successful. I prayed that she would figure out how she can best serve her team and I'm so glad that I was able to find her "sweet spot" - that area on the court from which she can hit the best.
So back to the Momma Bear.
Each morning after a game we get together as a team and hand out awards for the best plays and stand out players of the game the previous night. Of course this girl got a special award - the heart award, given to the girl each week that plays with the most heart for the game. I talked with the team about the discussions that this young lady and I have had regarding hitting and height. I discussed how proud I was of her because I wanted that success for her - I wanted her to know that she can do anything she wants. And of course, I got a little choked up about it and then that started me talking about how I am so much more of a sap after I had a baby. They looked at me and said "Aww." And thus started the "momma bear" comments.
But I'm okay with it....because to a certain extent...during the volleyball season, I am their momma bear. I push them to be better, I comfort them when they are having a bad day and I protect them from refs when they are in a game.
I've always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve and I always thought of this trait as a bad characteristic of mine. But I feel that when my players know how much I care about them, not only as players but as young women as well....I think I inspire them to work harder, play smarter and become the best athletes and young women that they can be.