I tried something new this Fall: coaching.
Well, sure, I did the usual soccer and baseball coaching when Cameron was young, but that kind of coaching is primarily oriented toward participation and trying to find a way for even the klutziest kids to feel good about themselves, which I think is important for young kids.
But as kids get older, the focus does shift somewhat to be more competitive, largely, as I discovered, through their own goals and interests. If a coach has the "right" attitude, though, that more competitive focus can definitely be a fun thing. For me, I have always loved competing (I still do), and, while it's fun to win, I've never really given a rat's butt whether I win or lose.
In the Fall of 2009, I offered to be the "helpful parent" for the high school cross country team that Cameron had joined as a freshman. I did things like record the kids' times at interim miles during races, drive to workouts, etc. This past Fall, the coach asked me if I wanted to be an official assistant coach. Of course I said yes!
I knew that one challenge would be that Cameron was on the team. Teenagers really don't like having parents hover around them, and most don't like getting advice from a parent. Fortunately, Cameron and I have often enjoyed discussing training and racing techniques and tactics outside of the team context, so there wasn't much "coaching" of him that was needed. I was also able to mostly steer clear of his socializing with teammates.
One issue related to Cameron that was a challenge to address is that the team has a stable of superstar runners who are also sophomores. While cross country is a no-cut sport, much of the focus and accolades are on the varsity runners. Cameron has a history of being the best or nearly the best at many things he's tried, but that isn't the case in running. This year, he was relegated to the third of three workout groups - this group included a few runners who were complete beginners and, frankly, quite slow. This was hard to swallow for Cameron, but he gamely continued to work hard in practice.
My role as assistant coach was mostly to help out with the non-varsity runners, so I did my best to try to build some camaraderie for the non-varsity subsets of the team. One thing I did in a few workouts was to encourage the guys to do a little extra work beyond what the head coach prescribed. For example, I suggested they do one additional one-mile repeat, when the workout initially called for only doing two. Several took me up on it (since I was running them, too), and this sharing of a hard work experience seemed to help with some of the team bonding. (It definitely helped with the performance - all of the boys had personal best times at the final meet of the season, and the JV team won the league championship!)
One of the things I noticed about coaching that I don't particularly care for is the nerves. As a competing athlete, it's normal to be nervous before a race, but those nerves always go away as soon as the gun goes off. But as a coach, I found that I'm a little nervous before the race, wondering how the boys will do, but even more nervous after the start, wondering how the race is going. When I realized this was happening at the sectional meet last month, I laughed outloud at myself. I mentioned how I felt to a couple other coaches nearby, and they gave me one of those "welcome to the club" looks.
The annual awards dinner was held a few weeks ago, and it was great to get some small gifts from the boys on the team, including one silly one (which always means that you've been formally accepted). I can hardly wait for next year!
*Special note: The title of this post is a quote from a guy I used to run with who would often provide these kinds of Yogi Berra-esque bits of advice. So far, I haven't used any of his in my coaching, but I did tell the boys about my favorite running quote (from a friend's high school coach): "Don't forget to win!"
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Who knew coaching kids would be more nerve-racking than competing yourself? In my experience there are a lot of parents who coach but very few who are really good at it. Sounds like you've focused on the things that really matter - team building, motivation, and the fun of the sport - Cameron is lucky to have you there!
Posted by Ms. Lea Ann Garrison Knight on Dec 29, 2010 7:07 AM
Thanks Lea Ann! I was also fortunate to be able to combine both coaching and competing in a couple of the meets, as they held "coaches races" before the kids ran in two of the invitational meets. It was great fun for me to do (I even got a medal in one of them!), but I noticed that it even gave the kids on the team some encouragement, knowing that their coach was out there suffering just like they were. Plus, they got to run around to different points on the courses and scream at me, "Run faster!!"
Posted by Mr. Marty Beene on Dec 29, 2010 8:31 AM