Written by Christine Sei, Girls in the Game volunteer coach in the After School Elementary program.
A few years ago, I was asked to give a speech at an awards ceremony honoring a female coach who I played soccer for in college. She had achieved a number of impressive accomplishments as head coach, including leading her program to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history. As I was gathering my thoughts in preparation for my speech, I began to reflect on what made her such an excellent coach. She was an exceptionally dynamic leader. She really got to know us as individuals and then tailored her coaching style in order to get the best results from each one of us. On the field she was tough as nails. She was direct and no-nonsense, but rarely singled anyone out when they played poorly or didn’t meet the fitness standards. Instead, she worked us harder as a team to show her displeasure. Her philosophy was that the team was only as good as its weakest player. No one player was ever responsible for a loss or even a great win. “There is no “I” in TEAM.” she’d say sarcastically.
Off the field however, she was a completely different coach. She made an effort to spend some time with each one of us every week, whether it was showing us a new skill, working on our fitness, or just talking about work or school. These were never formal meetings, per se. She’d catch up with us when we were in the gym, on a road trip, or just hanging out on campus. We’d often have personal goals that were just between the two of us. She was constantly pushing us to be better players, teammates, and women.
When I began coaching in the Elementary After School Program this fall, I often thought of this particular coach and what I learned from her. Co-coaching twenty-five girls ranging in age and skill level proved much more challenging then I expected. Would it be possible to get to know all of them on a personal level and then encourage them to work as a team? Most of our participants truly love the program and come every week with a great attitude ready to go. It’s been a pleasure to get to know them and it’s been fun to watch them learn new skills, grow as leaders, and make new friends. I’ve been surprised how rewarding my one-on-one conversations have been with them. I’m still trying to figure out ways to translate these coaching opportunities into solidifying a sense of teamwork within the group. I’ve struggled to reach a few participants who don’t seem to want to engage with the coaches or the group. A recent breakthrough with one little girl who I didn’t think I could reach has encouraged me to keep with it. I have the little note she wrote me in my coaching binder to remind me of my commitment (ring finger!) to our Girls in the Game team and to working to be a better coach. I’m lucky to have had such a great coaching role model and Girls in the Game has provided me an opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned from her. I hope that I can meet the challenges that lay ahead of me as a coach in the After School Program with the same patience, encouragement, and individual support she had shown to my teammates and me. She was definitely right when she said there is no “I” in TEAM, but if you look at it from a coach’s perspective, there is no team without the “ME”.