“Coach KB! Coach KB!” I heard several girls yell while my co-worker, KB, and I were visiting classrooms today at Randolph Elementary School. I watched the girls come to life when she walked in the room; you could feel their excitement and love for their coach and their anticipation of the next time they got to spend time with her.
There are three professions that use the title of the profession as the way to address the person in that role; Doctor, Judge and Coach. I remember the first time I heard this was at the Hall of Fame Dinner for the USA Track and Field Coaches Association. A woman accepting her husband’s induction into USATF Hall of Fame said there was no other title he would have ever wanted to wear and that he took great honor in being a coach.
Some people think that Girls in the Game coaches just show up with dodgeballs or basketballs to play sports with the girls, but when you take a deeper look you see something much greater with an even deeper impact.
I have the great opportunity to coach collegiate track and field. It’s funny because in high school, my least favorite sport was track. I loved basketball, I loved being a hitter in volleyball and during my honor roll study hall I would go to the batting cages with our softball coach and some of his players. When I got to college I decided I wasn’t going to play basketball, and so I did what any normal person would do and walked on the track team. I quickly learned that this wasn’t just any track team. At U.W. Oshkosh track and field was respected, a team sport, and the coach was very well known.
There were times I wanted to quit. In fact I remember one workout in particular, a ladder of 200-300-500-300-200 where I barely hung on to finish. Meanwhile my teammates seemed to complete the workout effortlessly. This was the day my veteran teammate pointed out the national championship banners; I remember seeing banners from the last three consecutive years amongst many others. She told me I was running against individual national champions and All-Americans. Then she encouraged me to stick with it.
Outside of the workouts we met in a classroom every Monday for a team meeting with our head coach Deb. Each member of the team would share their personal record or PRs from the weekend if they had hit one. Then Deb would do a short lesson covering mental focus, work ethic or team dynamics. One meeting Deb covered academics after grades came out. She announced everyone on the honor roll and had them stand, followed by the Dean’s list, then 4.0 students. I was one of three that didn’t stand up after my first semester. *I remember wanting to be someone who stood up next time and decided I would be.
Looking back now I realize how I lacked the wisdom to know how much of an impact my coach made on me, how her lessons taught me more than to just be a good athlete. I didn’t fully comprehend how being a part of this team and having a coach who truly understood what mattered would directly affect my life after collegiate sports. She is one of the most winningest coaches in track and field, and yet she never jeopardized her student athletes’ academics for success. She taught me the value of simplicity, discipline, focus, work ethic, pride and humility. I have carried those same lessons into my management style, coaching, teaching, family and friendships.
As I look around the Girls in the Game offices and spend time amongst our coaches and programming staff I am filled with admiration. While our curriculum is designed specifically with girls’ emotional, mental and health needs in mind, every single day I see coaches spread out through the offices taking the time to individualize the curriculum for their specific site and group of girls. They get it. They understand the privilege of their position, and they do not take it lightly.
Coaches impact student athletes’ lives on a daily basis over the course of several years. Think about any time an athlete gets in trouble in college, the first question is; ‘Where was the coach during this incident?’ To this day I’ve never heard anyone ask where the student’s English adviser was during the incident or how did the Calculus professor not know where their student was at such and such time. The bottom line, a coach has an inside influence that others rarely get.
Being a coach is an honor. I have been honored to hold that title for seven collegiate seasons. There was a stint in my career that I didn’t coach, and to say that I missed it is an understatement. Most people say you are not your job, but in my case that statement is inaccurate. I have a coach’s heart; I love to guide, mentor and sharpen others and then watch them grow and experience success. The first time I heard Coach again was at Girls in the Game. My heart almost exploded! All these girls were yelling Coach Mary! Coach Mary! It was music to my ears.
At Girls in the Game everyone who works with the girls is a Coach. We make sure our volunteers are ready to wear the title alongside us. Being a coach makes a person the front porch in to the lives of the girls. There is a sense of trust, respect and closeness that does not come with other titles. Coach implies team, leadership, fun, sport, a sense of togetherness.
This is also an honor that I hope you will experience one day with us at Girls in the Game. If you haven’t had a chance to serve girls as a coach and would like to volunteer please email Jess Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org
*After that meeting I was on Dean’s List the rest of my academic career barely ever dipping below a 3.8 GPA, in addition I became a two time All-American in the heptathlon and 4×400 relay.