So my smart, beautiful daughter l-l-l-loves volleyball. She’s in sixth grade and it’s offered at her school. So lucky! Well… wait a minute… they were offering it - but they needed a coach. The electronic message was sent out school-wide - Anybody got any experience and interested in coaching? I kept my cyber head low, avoiding imaginary eye contact. You see, I played eons ago in college when I was young and spry. Back in the dark ages. Back before my belly hung over my jeans and I could jump without leaking pee into my enormous cotton briefs. Just as I suspected, after no nibbles on the widely cast net my number was called! Hmm… I don’t know… It’s a lot of time. I’ve never coached before. It’s a big commitment. “Please, mom…?” my daughter asked and that was it. It’s how we do.
But, little did I know there would be league-wide meetings, certification class an hour away in traffic and fingerprinting episodes that would follow - annoying but necessary 21st century safeguards for our trusting, innocent children. But, they all amounted to more time away from what I needed to be doing - getting work, making money, parenting my other kids, wifely stuff, taking care of me…, etc. Again, it’s how we do.
The first day of practice came and sixteen (sixteen!) fifth and sixth grade girls showed up with eagerness radiating from their eyes. It was blinding. I felt uneasy. I’ve known many of these girls as friends of my daughter’s or children of my friends’ or students. But now it felt different. The roles had changed. I was in charge. Right?
I dug in. I asked them about their volleyball experience - most of them had never played before except for maybe a drill or two in P.E. class. I started to talk about the rules of the game and my voice sounded kind of funny to my ear. Oh shit. I felt nervous. Nervous? Good gravy. Yes, I was nervous, actually, I was scared for them, for my daughter. What if I was a big, fat failure and they hated it? Hated me? What if my daughter was ashamed of me? What if I took their eagerness, their trust, and I squandered it? All the many, many weeks of the season spread out before me like the sands of the Sahara. So, I took a breath, dug deep and I started off where I start off every single successful endeavor I’ve ever been a part of - I asked them to tell me a goal - this time specific to volleyball - that they hoped to achieve by coming to our first practice today. They were shy, soft spoken or joke-y and giggly when they responded with things like, “I want to learn how to serve.” or “I want to be able to hit the ball to someone.” Their responses were basic, generic, but I was surprised, impressed and a bit intimidated by how interested they were in really learning how to play and not just doing it because a friend was or as a way to stave off homework for an hour. They wanted to play! I tossed my ridiculous clipboard down on the ground, had the girls line up and went over basic form when you pass a volleyball. They paired off and began tossing the ball to each other, then moved on to one hitting back to the other, then both hitting back and forth. They were happy and laughing and giggling - and passing! They were passing the ball. They were doing it and doing it well. It felt right.
A few minutes before the end of practice I asked each girl to tell the group, our team, one thing they are grateful for in their life, anything at all. Their answers were diverse, interesting, very telling of their unique personalities and inspiring. It was fascinating to me to note that their answers were varied and different from the basic generalities they described in their goals at the beginning of practice. They were grateful for a good grade on a test, their dog, getting to play on a team with their friends, that it wasn’t too hot, etc. (Interesting to note media- not a single word about makeup or boys or clothes…). One girl did struggle. She couldn’t think of anything so she ended up parroting something another girl said, which was fine - there was work to do. And these amazing girls were telling me what they wanted. I knew how to be their coach, which incidentally was what I told them I was grateful for.
Back at home it was cocktail time, the hour I looked forward to all summer and I mean ALL summer. But I felt cloudy. I wanted a change. I had been wanting it for a while. I thought about practice, the girls, these powerful young girls bursting with promise and I thought about how I used to feel that way and wondered when it stopped… Where did that little girl, me, go? I knew that’s why their eagerness was so blinding to me at first. I was resistant to see them, because I had been resistant to really see myself. I thought about my goals now as a 43-year-old woman. What do I want to achieve? Easy. I’d like to connect more and be of service through my work, my writing, my life. I want to feel good in my body, I want to drop pounds, I don’t want to hide anymore. I want to be present. An idea was born and the following Monday I began a 28-day detox cleanse. It was time to regain focus.
And here we are now, several games into the season and nearing the end of my 28 days. I am clear-headed, writing and submitting stories and my clothes fit me better. The girls are on fire. We begin each practice and each game with goals and end with gratitude and in between these young ladies have come together as a team. They support each other after each and every play. They are getting better and more consistent passing and serving and the most gratifying thing of all is their confidence in themselves, in their ability, and in each other. They are bonding and having fun. They are enjoying themselves. They are in the moment. They are present. They, every one of the girls, are more specific in their goals now than they were at the beginning of the season. They know what they want and they are mindful of it and they work all practice or game to achieve it. They feel empowered. They are an inspiration.
I accepted the offer to coach these girls because I felt the tiniest bit obligated and wanted to give back to a school, to a community, that has been very good to our family and I wanted to be with my daughter and share a volleyball experience with her. I never realized how much she and her teammates would give me. Sure it’s a lot of time. And yes there are a lot of emails that fly around and little blips and losses - but that’s all part of it. That’s what makes it all so perfect, dealing with, accepting, embracing the imperfections. And, after more than a decade of being a soccer-basketball-waterpolo-dance-tennis-golf-baseball-flag-football-etc.-mom I am always more than ready when the end of the season finally rolls 'round ‘cause I’m so done. And maybe that’ll be the case this season but I don’t think so. I do know that when it’s all over and we are expressing our gratitude, if they don’t know already, I’ll make sure these fierce, earnest, eager, future presidents know how grateful I am and how much I’ve learned from them and how happy I am that they reminded me of that little girl I was all those years ago. She’s still in there - she just has more experience now and some hard earned laugh lines. Bless her heart! But the most important goal I subconsciously set out to achieve at the beginning of the season is far and away the most important and most special on this journey - my darling daughter has told me on more than one occasion how grateful she is that I’m her coach. It’s how we do.