I learned early in my athletic career that coaches usually have to be hard-asses to make you respect them. They do it so you learn to listen to them and eventually learn from them before they relax a little and open up.
As a kid, I had a great baseball coach who was just that: hard ass when we started practicing before the season, while he taught me fundamentals of the game and helped me fall in love with the sport, it wasn’t always like that.
I’ll say it bluntly: I hated him with a passion when practice started. I hated the drills. I hated all the running. I hated the sound of his whistle ringing in my ears hours after I left the ball field. And there was nothing more annoying than hearing his booming voice and the constant nagging to “keep my eye on the ball,” to clear my hips and to follow through when I threw the ball.
I almost dreaded going to practice when I first started playing. I was ready to quit the game I loved so much. Thankfully my parents wouldn’t let me walk away and drove me to practice. I kind of hated them as well because it was the worst torture I could image as a kid. Worse than chores and eating lima beans.
It was terrible. Just terrible.
Then something happened. The drills weren’t so bad after all. The running was easier and it seemed like there was less whistling at practice and more laughter. I got better, as did everyone else, and playing in games was fun. At some point during practice and games, that magical moment happened where we became a team and it made me love the game even more.
When I was in college, I had a chance to coach my cousin Justin’s little league baseball team and I jumped on the chance. I couldn’t wait to emulate the coach I had as a kid who taught me to love the game and to be around the ball field.
I have a ton of funny stories from that time from being called “El Jefe” to getting kicked out of a game by the umpire.
(I still contend our base runner was safe and the ump was trying to make up for a bad call he made earlier in the game. I did enjoy kicking dirt up in the air with my feet).
All in all, it was fun coaching, I really enjoyed sharing lessons I learned with the boys and we had a great time on our way to the championship that summer.
I had a chance to coach again a couple years back, this time a freshman baseball team, back in El Paso and had a wonderful time teaching, molding and guiding students. I loved it and if I could have taken a job as a coach, I would have in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately, I moved and when I had a chance to coach the Nixon Girls on the Run (GOTR) team, I said yes before the sentence was even finished. I was excited to help out and get girls ready for a 5K.
(It also helped Stephanie who was also a coach so it was a no brainer I was going to help her out. And she was also my ride home since we carpooled in the mornings so I really had to participate or do nothing for 90 minutes after school let out.)
I had never coached girls before so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. With guys, it’s easy to be a hard ass early: you aren’t there to be their friends and lolly-gag everywhere. You want them to learn to be hard workers and learn fundamentals through hard work. You want them to learn how to overcome the adversity of failing when you haven’t mastered the skill.
GOTR was totally different.
Aside from training for a 5K, the program is designed to help build the confidence of the girls, to learn life skills, to be healthy and to just be good persons at school and in life.
I was totally out of my element at first. I didn’t know there were lessons with mini-exercises that had to be taught. I didn’t know that we would be talking about “touchy-feely” topics like how someone felt when they were sad or how to deal with being left out of a recess activity and who to talk to if you needed someone to share something important. At first, it seemed like we spent more time talking than we did running.
It didn’t help that I was the only guy either. The girls would glance at me with a look that said, “what are you doing here? You’re not a GIRL. I thought this was for girls only!”
To an extent, it was like going through little league baseball all over again but without the yelling and the whistle blowing all the time: I needed to learn how to develop traits that would help the girls be successful with the lessons they were learning while still pushing them to train for the big race.
Yet much like my experiences as a child with my little league coach, something started to click as the weeks went by and my time with the team accumulated. I got used to the format and learned from the lessons quickly. I learned from the girls what worked as a coach and what didn’t. More importantly, I learned how to communicate with the girls.
By the end of the season last week, the girls really warmed up in their own ways. Many of them started talking to me during the day at school and were super happy when I acknowledged them with their friends. To others, I became a human play structure for them and they loved trying to do pull-ups on my arms or just swarming me during practice. They laughed when we had our water fight because they finally got me wet after I controlled the water hose. They loved spray-painting my race shirt because “I didn’t have enough color” and I needed “to be one of the girls.”
It was a small statement but it made me feel accomplished: I was their coach.
GOTR was unlike any experience I’ve had before and it was quite possibly more rewarding simply because it was just so challenging. I’ll be the first to admit there were times when I didn’t know what I was doing, when I was out of place and when I thought we should have just been running. In the end, it was a great time, I had a heck of a learning experience and I had a wonderful time getting to know the girls and their families.
I can’t wait to come back for more next year.