Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pride Lasts Forever

Six months ago I agreed to take on a new role as the head coach of Battle Ground Academy’s varsity softball team.  When I quit my job as an engineer two years ago, this was not necessarily the new role I had envisioned.  My plan was to coach individuals and families on health & weight loss and to start my own budding small business.  I am a planner – I prefer to have a specific plan, goals, expectations, and the future mapped out so that I know what to expect.  However, my role as a softball coach has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable unexpected events in my life so far. 

Shortly after accepting the coach’s position at BGA, I met with all high school girls interested in playing softball this spring.  I was disheartened when only five girls showed up.  I spent several months trying to drum up interest in varsity softball.  I began conditioning with the girls over the winter and we were able to add a few girls and lost a couple along the way.  However, due to the low numbers of high school girls, we made the decision to pull up all the 8th grade girls so that we would be able to have a varsity team.  Of my 14 varsity players, eight of them are 8th graders. 

BGA did not have a varsity team last year, so there were many tasks to complete in addition to adding girls to the team.  In the weeks leading up to our first scheduled practice, I set out to get our locker room (which was being used as a yoga studio and, while beautiful, more closely resembled an Austin Powers movie than a locker room), storage room, equipment, and uniforms ready for the season.  I came home many nights with cobwebs in my hair and dirt up my nose.  I washed uniform pants that were stiff as a board, cleared out water-logged balls, and even dumped out a few bags that were still filled with sunflower seeds.  We also had two weekends where the girls and their families came to clean, organize, and decorate.  All this hard work was worth every second to see the final result. 

We held our first official softball practice on February 13th.  To be honest, I had many sleepless nights leading up to this day.  I knew several of my girls had never played softball before.  Many did not have gloves or cleats.  And many of us had to learn how to throw (which foot to step with) and how to swing a bat (where and how to hold the bat).  I was honestly worried about my own ability to coach this team.  I had a fear of letting this young BGA team down.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by these amazing young girls.  They are extremely coachable, tremendously determined, and very gracious.  After the first few days of practice, I was already seeing glimmers of hope and great potential. 

I have watched girls learn how to hold a bat, swing at a ball on a tee, and eventually hit a ball off a pitching machine.  To see the look of pride on their faces is worth more than any personal achievement I could imagine.  The ultimate achievement came this past weekend during or first games of the season.  We played in a play day against teams with girls 4-5 years our senior and with years of playing together as a team – we’d only had three weeks of practice as a team.  The weather was very cold (my car said 39 degrees when we left the park at 9:30pm) so I wasn’t sure if our teeth were chattering from fear or chill.  But, after the first game, the “deer in the headlights” look began to fade and we started to bond as a team.  In one of the games, a 13-year-old girl who had never played a day of softball in her life was up to bat and hit a looping line drive to the first baseman.  It was caught and she was out; however, she went right back to the plate and picked up her bat to hit again.  I realized this was my fault – that is how we hit batting practice – I allow them a few hits before we rotate.  It broke my heart to have to tell her she was out.  However, that heartache disappeared during her next at-bat.  The bases were loaded and she was up.  I simply told her to breathe and to smile.  She stood up there and knocked the ball into the outfield – earning a 3-run RBI.  I have received lots of personal awards in my life – both for my softball career and my engineering career – and I have been extremely appreciative of each one.  However, the joy I felt after this hit doesn’t even come close to those.  My heart leapt as I jumped along the third base line!  And my heart melted during our huddle at the end of the night when one of my seniors said, “I am most proud of you” referring to this young 8th grader.  We lost all three games we played, but I could not have been more proud – we gave it our best and we held our heads high. 

Softball runs in my veins – I even slept with my glove as a kid – the smell of leather, sweat, and dirt brought me comfort.  Softball is second nature to me.  However, the experience as a coach is a new, amazing, confusing, and awesome view of the sport.  The pay is low, the expectations are high, the hours are long, the pain is deep, and the joy is immense.  For my girls, I am a mother, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a therapist, a disciplinarian, a chauffeur, a maid, a cheerleader, an encourager – I am a coach.  It is a role that is priceless to me.  I have come to realize through the game of softball that youth matures, pain fades, and fear subsides, but pride lasts forever. 

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