My 7th graders this year are posing a particularly interesting challenge for me. Only one girl out of 38 has ever really played competitive volleyball before and the majority of the last four weeks with them have been spent pounding the fundamentals of the sport into their brain repeatedly. They are a sweet group of girls but they have kept me on my toes and have forced me to continually think outside of the box when it comes to preparing practices for them.
Today was no exception.
Friday afternoon practices with 7th graders are tough. No one wants to be there - we all would much rather be heading home straight after school with a glorious and relaxing weekend stretched out in front of us. The girls were in the midst of a competition drill which focused on getting three touches (pass, set, hit) before sending the ball back over the net to the opposing team. I looked around the gym and there was no dedication, inspiration or perspiration for that matter. Something had to be done.....something on a deeper level.
I ran into the coaching office, grabbed our cup of pencils and a stack of blank white printer paper and headed back into the gym and waited for the drill to finish. I handed each girl a piece of white paper and a pencil and described their assignment:
1. Write five things in volleyball that you are really good at - could include physical things like passing or serving, but also the intangibles such as encouragement to teammates or focus on the court.
2. Write five things you struggle with in volleyball and things you need to improve.
3. Beside your struggles, include a team members name that you would like to emulate or that you could go to for help with that particular aspect of the game.
I gave them eight minutes to write and off they went with their respective teams (Division I, II and III) to separate corners of the gym to work on their assignment.
On a completely different note - while I was describing their assignment, my principal chose that moment to walk into practice to speak to me regarding an entirely separate subject. He stood in the corner and listened to the directions I was giving the girls....BROWNIE POINTS FOR ME!!! :)
After the girls finished their writing I had them share their thoughts and I sat down with my Division I team to partipate in the discussion. From a coaching standpoint it was incredibly enlightening - I was able to find out who the physical leaders on the team were but more importantly, who my emotional leaders were which is knowledge that can change the course of a game for sure.
Although this information was good to have something bigger stood out to me. Here is a collection of what the girls would say about their strengths:
"I am okay at serving."
"I pass to target sometimes."
"When my serves go in, they're really good."
"I think I know the rotation."
There are no definitive statements.....but when it came to their weaknesses they had no trouble laying it out.
"I really need to work on my serving." (Imagine this said oh so dramatically by a 12 year old girl.)
"Ugh. I do NOT understand the rotation!"
"I'm not a good passer."
In addition to being able to so clearly define their own weaknesses they also had no problem acknowledging which girls on the team were better than them at those skills!
This left me wondering - what would the "strengths" have sounded like if it was a group of 7th grade football players? I have a feeling we would have had 38 different young men that are all better quarterbacks than Peyton Manning and who can run faster than Usain Bolt.
So here I am at the big picture. Why is it that so many women have a problem feeling confident in their strengths? And when does the switch happen from confident little girl who will be both an astronaut AND Miss America while serving as President of the United States to a seemingly fragile young woman who is afraid to acknowledge that they are good at ANYTHING?! Is there a fear of being labeled "conceited" and "full of herself?"
Being humble doesn't mean hanging your head down low and never having confidence in yourself. For me it means to keep things in perspective and to have a realistic view of oneself.
- I know that if you looked at my coaching career as a whole.....I am a great coach. I have had and will continue to have my not so great moments here and there, but overall - I'm doing a very good job in all aspects of coaching and teaching. The girls are learning and excelling in the sport as well as enjoying themselves along the way.
- God blessed with a natural aptitude for everything athletic. Give me almost any sport and I can play it to some sort of higher level ability. Obviously volleyball and basketball are my strongest sports, but I'm a great swimmer, I can throw a mean spiral with the football and I was the best girl on the church softball team in high school.
- I am a leader. I don't get nervous when I'm in front of a large group of people and I know how to give directions and convey information in a clear, concise and entertaining way. People pay attention when I talk and naturally tend to do what I say. Or maybe the kids are just a wee bit intimidated by me with my booming voice and six foot stature. Ha, ha, ha.
BUT...on the other hand:
- I have a short amount of patience. I tend to want things done how I want them and when I want them. I struggle with this daily because my precious little darlings don't always function at the level I would like and I have to really center myself sometimes before overreacting.
- I am not the craftiest person. Every once in awhile I will get a wild hair and peruse the aisles of Hobby Lobby for a project, but most of the time I tend to outsource those kinds of things to my two incredibly talented and much craftier friends, Heather and Amy.
- I cannot sing and nor can I play an instrument. God did not include these things in my list of talents. But given the choice of voice selection, I would choose to sing like Adele. Sigh. Her songs and her voice speak to my soul. Sidenote: one of the few positive memories I have of Natalie and I during my maternity leave was one night I was in the kitchen and while cooking dinner and listening to my iPod Natalie became increasingly upset and agitated. I scooped her up off the playmat and began dancing around the kitchen with her in my arms all the while singing "Rolling in the Deep" from Adele's 21 album. It is a picture I will forever hold in my heart because it was a moment of freedom from PPD when I could just enjoy a spontaneous ounce of joy with my daughter.
I ended my practice describing what I heard from the girls in the manner of which they spoke about their strengths and how timid they were to truly acknowledge that they were good at something. I told them that when they said "I'm good at passing SOMETIMES" that the sentence should have ended after the word "passing." It's okay to acknowledge that you're talented as long as you realize that there are imperfections as well. And hopefully they also understood that struggles and challenges in volleyball are perfectly acceptable as long as you are actively pursuing an increase of skill in those areas - hence the writing down of people on the team that you admire for those skills.
Regardless of the greater societal implications that this little activity shined a light on, I think it helped to bring some unity to the girls as well as served as an interesting inventory of the girls' perception of each other for me. I will be repeating it with my 8th graders on gameday next Thursday - I'm interested to see if another year of maturity and growth will produce stronger conviction in their attributes and maybe more complex weaknesses in their athletic and emotional abilities.