Monday, July 9, 2018

Advice for coaches from a non-athlete

Today I was thinking about a conversation that I had earlier this year about students picking classes. I'm at a small school, which means that students may run into schedule conflicts, especially for music classes like band and choir because they're only offered during one period. While I really want my students to keep taking Spanish, when push comes to shove, if they have to choose between band and Spanish or choir and Spanish, I want them to take band and/or choir. The reality is that they will have plenty of opportunities to take Spanish if they want to in the future, but playing and singing in ensembles is a lot harder to do once you're not in high school (auditions, time commitments, etc.). 

Meandering on to my main point...Once upon a time, I went out for sports. I had played soccer as a kid and basketball when I was in junior high because I went to a tiny Lutheran school and everyone played a sport. I was always terrible, but I enjoyed it. I didn't go out for anything in high school because I knew I was terrible, and I spent my time doing things I enjoyed more, like band and choir. But my sophomore year, someone started a league soccer team, and I went out for it because I had enjoyed playing as a kid (despite falling and getting a concussion, because did I mention I was terrible?). We were awful and we lost most or all of our games, but I had fun playing. The next year, my high school added girls soccer, so the league team went away, and I decided to go out for it because I had enjoyed playing the year before. So my junior year I went out for a team sport. I was still terrible, but I enjoyed practicing, and started running so that I was in better shape to play. I think I played maybe 3 minutes the entire season, but I was still planning on going out the next year because I enjoyed it and it was good exercise. Until my band concert. The night of the spring band concert, I asked if I could leave practice early, because I was first chair and wanted to have a little extra practice time since I had a few solos that night. I don't remember any more how long practice went, or what time I had asked to leave, but I had apparently asked to leave 30 minutes earlier than two other girls who were on the team and who were also in band. So my coach told me that these other girls were leaving at 6 (or whenever), so I didn't need to leave before then. Here's the thing, though. The other two girls were starters on the soccer team and played most of every game.  They were not first chairs in band.  If it were me now, I would have respectfully pointed out that I was first chair in band and a bench warmer on the soccer team,  and she really didn't need me to be there for those 30 minutes so that I could sit on the bench for every game for the entire season. But I wasn't savvy enough to advocate for myself, so I didn't argue. I just didn't go out for soccer the next year. Obviously it wasn't a great loss for the team, because have I mentioned yet that I was terrible? But I did bring some things to the team. I was a team player. I cheered for my teammates the entire game. If my teammates needed gloves or an ear warmer, I let them use mine. I got a team spirit award at the end of the season for being a team player. Can I just tell you that I did not care about that award? I wanted 30 minutes of extra practice time for the thing that I was actually good at. 30 minutes out of the entire season. 

My coach never asked why I wasn't going out for soccer the next year. She probably figured it was because I didn't get to play, and let's be honest: I was terrible, so it's not like it was a devastating blow to the team. But I do think the team lost someone who embodied what a team player looks like, and I missed out on being part of the team and doing something that I enjoyed. I'm not sorry that I decided not to go out for soccer again, because I made a decision that was based on my priorities. But it didn't have to be either/or. I could have done both, if my coach had understood that band, an actual class and something I was good at, was more important to me than an extracurricular where I was a bench warmer.

Anyway. My advice (which is kind of boring and basic after that long story, but here it is finally): I know there have to be some firm team rules to maintain standards and not play favorites. But don't apply a blanket rule to everyone on non-essentials. Consider the individual circumstances of the different players on your team. While a blanket rule may seem to be the fairest thing to do, do you really need to keep a bench warmer at practice for an extra 30 minutes if it means that she's not going to have any time to practice before her band concert, where she's first chair? 

Obviously, this advice is also applicable to teachers, and other people who work with humans. It's hard when it's your subject, or your sport, or your whatever, and not everyone loves it as much as you do (my experience every time I teach linguistics, which I looooooove, but which most students don't care for). But especially if you're a teacher or a coach, it's important to look at the whole person. Where does your student shine? What does he or she love to do? Especially now, when there's a push for students to only do things they're good at, such as specialize in sports, etc., it's even more important for students to do things that they're not great at. But if we insist that our top thing has to be their top thing, too, we're closing doors that don't need to be closed.

And now for my thoughts on the World Cup (I think that's what's going on right now, anyway): I do not know or care who is playing, but I have been enjoying the Neymar memes.

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