There are certain professions in this world that allow you the opportunity to bring someone into your care. These are areas of service and leadership, respect and trust. This type of relationship cannot be forced, it has to flow with perfect balance in perfect time.

I remember qualifying to nationals in the 60 meter hurdles my senior year of college. I was excited to go and to compete at such a high level. The day that we arrived at the meet we found out our fastest 400 meter runner had a stress fracture on her foot. She couldn’t run in the relay. There were two women left to be alternates; one of them was me. I remember my coach coming over to me and asking me to get some hand-offs in while we did our pre-meet warm up the day before competition started.

The next day I competed in the 60 meter hurdles and then ran in the 4×400 relay. My coach looked at me and said; “Mary you’re the senior and I know you will leave it all on the track for your teammates so you’re taking the spot in the relay”. I was nervous; I wasn’t just replacing a leg of the relay, I was replacing our fastest woman on the relay.

We warmed up as a team, we came out in our sweats, and the officials lined us up. The gun sounded and it felt like a lifetime before it was my turn to run. The moment I grabbed the baton from my teammate it was on. There would be nothing left in me when I passed the baton off. After the first 200 I started to pass several women and handed off the baton first in our heat the next two women ran, we made it to finals which meant we were competing to become All-Americans! After the prelims were over my coach approached all of us and smiled at me. She turned her watch and said; “You ran the fastest time, looks like I made the right choice”. **I was elated because I got my teammates where they deserved to be, in a position to become All-Americans. I would have never run that race, that relay or possibly that time had my coach not seen in me what I hadn’t seen in myself. She knew before I did.

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Working on our “arm bar”

Every time a girl walks through the doors of the gymnasium, the classroom or our office we have been given this sacred space of care. The time is valuable and the girls themselves priceless. Filled with energy and laughter, smiles and charisma, curiousness, words, fear, excitement, an inability to sit still or listen; they are filled with love and adoration for their coaches. As an organization we know our role within this delicate job of working with the girls. No matter if it is a challenging day or a blissful day, a day they all listen or none of them listen, they are placed in our care and the clock ticks.

I had one season to coach the senior 400 meter hurdler. He worked harder than anyone on the team, was coachable, consistent, accountable, a good teammate and a captain who lead by example. Each workout had intention behind it, hurdle drills to sharpen movements, block drills to correct any rhythm issues to the first hurdle. Some workouts Ryan had to earn his next repetition by doing the one before perfectly, the pressure was on but with intention, to mimic the race day pressure. He did everything right and fell short of qualifying for nationals at his last meet. At the end of his race I went to slap his hand as we always did, but instead he put his arms out and hugged me. He thanked me for being ‘one heck of a coach’. A moment I’ll remember for a long time.

Next year he will be going to the Peace Corps to serve in Africa. I know for a fact he will be one of the best volunteers they will ever have; he will be reliable, consistent, a good teammate, and a leader. During his life Ryan will always find people following him and as a coach that means we respected and honored our role. We set expectations, we pushed him. It was a delicate balance of praise and correction, of wanting more but always knowing when he had given it all. The perfect timing of respect, trust and care.

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Batting stance!

During our Teen Squad events I find myself standing back listening in admiration and pride. When I get to participate as a coach during after school or summer camp I play and laugh and have fun inside an environment that has been created by coaches that respect their role and honor the girls left in their care. I watch the managers of our programs and our coaches work in such beautiful harmony. We know what is in front of us, girls who are ready to grow and learn, and then we must let them go.

There is one final piece to this perfect puzzle. The piece of release, the piece where you have to let go, the piece when the perfect time and the perfect balance have been satisfied. This is when girls become women, athletes become servant leaders in other countries and I became a coach. Girls in the Game is a place where we find ourselves in the profession of taking girls into our care, never holding on too long but never letting go too early. If you want to get involved email us at; jlarson@girlsinthegame.org

**This 4×400 relay team became All-Americans at the indoor national meet and I remained on the relay team all of outdoor season as the anchor leg.

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