Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coach Kelley

There was this one time when I thought I could coach a basketball team.

This past winter, I coached a 10-13 year old girls basketball team at the White Cross Rec Center. My friend's husband runs the league and was in desperate need for coaches. So I volunteered. Jericho asked, "Do you even know how to coach?" I've played basketball on some level for the past 20 years of my life. That should translate into at least marginal coaching abilities. They're tweens. How hard can it be?

It wasn't so much that it was harder than I expected. It was the feeling of utter helplessness when no matter how loud I yelled on the sidelines or how many times I ran a drill in practice, things didn't happen how I thought they should. It blew my mind that I could give a rousing and [in my opinion] truly inspirational pep talk at half time of a tied game and then have my girls do exactly what I just told them NOT to do. It was exhausting. I got in the car once after a game and sighed to Jericho, "I'm going to be such a bad parent." Granted, I will not have 7 tween girls all at the same time, or ever. But trying to coach made me realize just how much patience is required when trying to teach a child something new or something that they really aren't that good at. As someone who's played basketball for 20 years, I struggled to remember what it was like to not be able to dribble with my left hand or do a lay-up so it was tough to put myself in their shoes and understand that a lot of mistakes are going to be made in the learning process.

After the first practice, I thought our team would be in pretty good shape. All of my girls had played rec ball before so at least I wouldn't have to teach anyone where the hoop was. After our first game [which we struggled through and lost], I received an email from one of the parents. She was not angry. Merely concerned. The other teams in the league were obviously different than ours. Their girls were clearly bigger and more experienced. Their games were equally matched and often came down to a dramatic finish with only a single made basket determining the winner. The emailing mother expressed concern that our girls would get destroyed in every game given the competition we now knew we were up against. I thought the same thing.

Having grown up playing rec leagues in various sports, I knew what it was like to be that team in the league that never won a game. It was extremely disheartening to come away from a losing season and feeling that somehow if only I was a little better, my team wouldn't have been so bad. I made up my mind after that first game that I wouldn't hound my girls about wins and losses, that I only wanted to come away feeling like I taught them something new and helped them have fun.

There was one girl on my team named Kelley. She was the youngest and smallest player on my team. She had an older sister on the team and it was clear from the very first practice that the older sister possessed nearly every athletic gene in the family. I felt like I couldn't teach this girl anything. Nothing stuck. There was one moment in the one of the last games when the older of the sisters was sitting with me on the bench. She told me how glad she was to see Kelley getting so much playing time because the last team they played on, the coach rarely every played her. She said she could see how much she'd improved and how much fun she was having. I felt a little better about my job.

I feel like the moral of this story should end like Hoosiers, with the underdogs bringing down the gym with a dramatic win in the tournament. Alas, it was nothing like that. The season ended much like you'd expect. We didn't win a single game. But, we came really, really close and I was so happy to see them working so hard [most of them anyway]. At the end of the last game, the same mom that emailed me in the beginning of the season hugged me and thanked me and told me how much the team had improved since the first game. I really don't know if these girls will remember this season of rec ball as anything noteworthy or special. I'd like to think so. I do know I learned plenty. And I'm glad it's over.


  1. Aw..so cute. You are to be commended for undertaking such a daunting task. That's not something many young women would do. I'm sure that you made a positive impact on the team and that the parents appreciated all your hard work. I personally think that basketball is a really hard game to learn, but that's just me:)

  2. kelley- i had a very similar experience coaching a middle school field hockey team a few years ago (i was the assistant coach) and we were just like your ball team-- sweet girls that ran drills correctly, etc...and then got creamed every game. Nothing stuck. my friend and i were really concerned with them losing every game and losing confidence, but by the end of the season, they HAD improved and were having alot of FUN despite the score. So in the end, all was well.
    Don't equate your coaching with parenting though. A tiny baby is much different (and in many ways much easier) than a team of tweens, as you said: ) You're going to be a GREAT mom!

    What a fun thing for you to be able to do!


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