“What better way is there for me to spend quality time with my kids than to be their coach? I have to take them to practice anyhow.” That was my reasoning at the beginning of this season when as a mother of five and a part-time college student I was already feeling stretched. Little did I know that my kids didn’t need me to be their coach as much as I needed them and their team to be my trainers.
I’ve loved volleyball since I can remember. I played on the JV team in high-school, and quit before I had the chance to reach any braggable level of competetive skill. But for a recreational league I knew I would be “good enough”. When I showed up to coach training they didn’t even warn me that coaching has very little to do with skill and a whole lot to do with modeling and mentoring. They let me learn the hard way. Best gig ever. Learning the hard way is my super power.
Let me just start by confessing our season record. 1-7. Yes, that’s one win and seven losses. And, yes, you can stop reading now if you are anything like I was eight weeks ago in believing that the wins are all that’s important.
You see, my lesson #1 was this:
Winners are not those who never fail but those who never quit.
I started with a really inexperienced team. We got our butts kicked over and over again, but I taught them the basics and told them to master them. I promised them if they could just get down their bumping and serving we would be good for the tournament.
These girls never quit. They kept working. And on Saturday we have our last tournament game. We go into it 3-0. Yes, three wins. Zero losses. If we win tomorrow, we will be the league champions. They never quit. And I’m so glad I never did either.
Lesson #2: Actions speak louder than words. Actions are determined by thoughts and beliefs.
One time when we were losing badly, I hurriedly sent the team back on the court without the traditional team cheer. I was distracted, frustrated and worried about how as a coach I was letting my team down. I had just ran on about mechanics and with the impatience of the official raining down on me, I pushed the team along without any encouragment, a sweep of the hands and a, “Just go.” My daughters informed me on the way home that Olivia had looked at them both with anxiety all over her face. She felt bad. Coach was mad and disappointed. My lack of positivity brought the whole team down.
That brings me nicely to my third lesson:
You can only teach someone who wants to learn. You can only learn when you want to be taught.
My daughter Bella has been struggling with her serving the entire season. Last night before the game I was determined to get her serving perfected before the game started. I took her aside and dug in. “You need to keep your arm straight. Hold the ball steady. Don’t start so far back.” She refused to move up six inches. The more I tried to explain how her balls were falling short that exact length, the more she shut down. She ended up in tears. It’s not a proud moment. Thankfully my husband came over and asked me, “Alice, is it really worth it?” She didn’t want to learn what I had to offer, yet I still wanted to stuff it down her throat. Both she and I had really fragile feelings for the whole first set. It wasn’t worth it. Unless you call her first two perfect serves from too far back worth it. Like her mama, she is out to prove a point. For the record, I know now I was wrong. I’ll never forget the horrible sinking feeling I had while watching her sit on the bleacher and cry.
Lesson 4: Change is progression.
I’m the kind of person that holds my ideas and opinions tightly. I feel like if I need change I failed. Volleyball has reminded me that the only thing that defines failure is being too rigid to progress. At the beginning of the season I was using a lot of practice time on cardio and strength building. I realized early on that my team needed more time on the ball. I had to completely change our practice outline.
Always, always, always focus on the positive.
It took me six losses to figure this out, but on a positive note, I guess there are slower coaches to be found somewhere. In the beginning of the season, I kept harping on the girls about what they were doing wrong. They couldn’t bump the ball for the life of them, and so I determined to force competancy on them.
Meanwhile, the other teams were not just mastering bumping, but also learning new skills too. Or so it seemed to me. I decided that I had to change my approach. I started finding ways to compliment each player. I dished out praise like Halloween candy. I demonstrated and allowed time for practice and encouragment. I continuously repeated how much I believed in them. I told them the could win. They started to believe it.
I can’t really explain the beautiful experience it is to jump around a court like a crazy kid with a team full of girls that you know you helped to learn the lessons of champions. Last night, as I watched them high-give and congratulate each other with joy written in each smile line, my heart swelled. I was so grateful that they coached me way more than I could have ever coached them.
Update (next day)
We won. My favorite part was when we all sang “We are the Champions” in celebration.