Friday, November 12, 2010

Taking Ownership, or Learning to Love


This week turned out to be just as long as expected, though thankfully was not without its share of entertainment. While Tuesday's cold symptoms turned into Wednesday's day home sick in bed, Thursday came through as expected: with a day of teaching followed by a six hour volleyball tournament.

Yes, they really are six hours.

I agreed to coach volleyball a little over a month ago when a coaching deficit was discovered, and I volunteered to referee games.
"Do you have any experience?" they asked.
"Oh, yeah" I replied, trying to convince them that I was a perfect referee for after school tournaments.
"Then I think you should coach."
"Wait. What?"

The discussion ended when I surveyed Curtis to find out how much he would be working during the eight week season.
"A lot," he replied, unsurprisingly.
"I'll take it," I told the head coach.

And so I agreed. Agreed to ninety minute practices after school with 35 junior high girls. Agreed to six hour tournaments and bus rides across town. Agreed to negotiating hurt feelings, babying girls that got hit in the face, or hit the ball too hard. Agreed to surveying the locker room to watch for cell phones (whose idea was to put cameras in those things?). Agreed to wait while irresponsible parents show up 45 minutes after practice is over.

I'm not really sure what I was thinking.

The past three weeks of practices have been interesting. There has been a lot of hair flipping, heart drawing, and gossiping. There has been a little serving and passing, and an occasional spike. In general, practices have left me frustrated. I have too many people, in too small a space, with too many attitudes.

Yesterday that all changed.

We left for our tournament in the afternoon, and as we boarded the bus I wasn't really sure what to expect. I would be the first to admit that my team's talent pool was, well, lacking. Our serving was atrocious. Our passing unreliable. And as we suited up and played our first game, my athletes (if you want to call them that) looked a lot like the team I coach in practice: unmotivated, distracted, and not good at getting balls over the net.

And then, all of the sudden, they transformed.

One girl dove across the court with such gusto that she slid under the net and onto the other side. Another girl served the ball over the net--for the first time in her life. And then she did it again. They were moving, and passing, and covering each other's weaknesses. They were cheering and chanting and screaming (as much as I discouraged the later), and they were getting into it. Really into it.

And I was too.

Game after game was played and they continued to improve. I was on my feet cheering. I was on the floor when that's where I wanted them to go. I was losing my voice, and I didn't care. This was fun.


As we boarded the bus back to the school, a few of the girls strategized about how to help the weaker players. They wanted my input and support in improving their team. It was finally their team: a team they cared about, a team they wanted to see succeed.

And this was an even bigger change than the one I saw on the court.

My team, from the very beginning, has been an insiders/outsiders team. I have a queen bee, her BFF, and an entourage of wanna-be populars. I also have a group of outsiders: the ones that don't care, don't notice, or have been flat out rejected. In practice it hasn't mattered what I've done to split them up, group them differently, or tried to show them that this is a team sport. They have their friends, and they have the nobodies.

And the populars don't care about the nobodies.

Perhaps I should be concerned that the only reason "the nobodies" now matter to "the populars" is because they are directly tied to winning and losing. The fact is, I'm happy they care about them at all. Because yesterday night as we chatted on the bus, the populars determined--for themselves--that everybody matters.

And even with the miraculous serving, and unforeseen court-side passion, this was clearly the biggest victory of the evening. And I'll take that over a winning record any night of the week.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - this is a great post, Ash. What insight - you're an awesome coach/teacher/observer/carer!