One of the high-points of my life experience to date was coaching track and cross country at Johnson High School in Saint Paul. I loved my time coaching and like most coaches, found the coaching relationship with my athletes to be the most rewarding aspect of the experience.
As a young coach, I thought I knew the coaching formula – I’d plan the perfect workouts, the kids would perform them exactly as planned and athletic success would follow. I immediately learned that coaching was first and foremost about the relationship with my student-athlete and so much more than distance and pace. I learned that the impact I could have on my kids was beyond athletic outcomes and that the impact they would have on me would be life-changing.
When I began coaching, it was because I loved the sports of track and cross country. Just a few years out of college, I missed the challenge, the science, and the connection of working as a team toward an athletic goal. I wanted to become a coach as the next step in my “athletic career.” When my husband began working at Saint Paul Johnson High School as a teacher and baseball coach, I became aware of the opportunity to volunteer. My first distance crew for the track team was a small group of athletes, barely enough to fill a relay team, but a group of kids who were there to run.
Each student was unique – I had brand new runners, kids who just wanted something to do after school, and talented and challenge-oriented athletes. My workout plans, spreadsheets, pace charts, and notions based on my own experiences were out the window. Instead I had to meet each athlete where he or she was at and I had to learn what would motivate each one to come to practice each day. I had to learn who my athletes were as individuals and I realized I had to earn their trust in me as an adult and as coach. The relationships grew over time, with each run, each conversation, and each workout.
My athletes became “my kids” and I learned my kids’ stories – stories I had little background or experience to initially comprehend. But as I learned my kids’ stories and they learned mine, we found connection and intersections. We found similarities among one another and celebrated each student’s unique strengths and personality. We built a team and a sense of mutual accountability – we were partners and a team in this effort. We set the goal together. My job was to help set the plan and workouts for them to improve and perform, their job was to put forward their best effort every day. It was everyone’s job to encourage and motivate each other. Not every day was easy and as I grew to know my kids, I learned that for some, just attending school and practice was filled with hurdles. I learned to open my eyes and heart to the experiences of others and to not just hear but to listen. Through my athletes, my worldview grew, and I learned how to go beyond the surface of what I thought I knew and what I thought I understood. I learned that if we genuinely seek to understand one another, we will find we share much more in common than we might have expected.
Today, as I look back at the years of spreadsheets filled with kids’ names, races, and times, I see each face and remember watching them compete. I remember seeing their potential and anxiously watching them race, waiting to see if that day would be the day they themselves would recognize it, advance toward it, or realize it. I recall setting each race goal with them – was I setting the expectation too high or too low, was I pushing them too hard or not enough, had I prepared them for success? When the race was over, I loved to see the confidence on their faces when a new best time was achieved or completing a tough course was simply done. We grew our team to nearly thirty kids from our original team of seven. We celebrated the seconds and minutes that were dropped from times and the number of miles ran over the weeks and months. The confidence of these achievements unlocked confidence in other aspects of their student life. I loved pointing out that THEY put in the work and THEY got the results and if they could do it with running, they could do it with anything in their lives.
My coaching career came to pause when I became a mom. During my last season coaching, I coached and ran with my athletes with my infant daughter in the jogging stroller. Selfishly, I didn’t want to quit, I didn’t want to let go of “my kids.” But, I knew that it was time to recognize that the best coach for my athletes would be one who could be fully devoted in time, energy, and focus. Now I miss coaching because I miss the opportunity to work with young people in the unique way that athletics allows. I miss helping young people explore their talents and take steps forward in reaching their potential athletically and personally. I know there are kids who may not have an adult in their life telling them they are valuable, capable, and uniquely created to make a positive impact in this world – I miss being one of the people who could fill that role for them. I also miss the experience of continuously learning from an amazing group of students every day.
I know the time will come when my phase of life allows for coaching again. Until then, my role as a mom is core to my foundation and I’ll work to serve the kids in my community as a Sunday school teacher and hopefully in the future as a school board director.