This I Believe

Beth - Walnutport, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 31, 2006

Kindergarten Coach

At the church breakfast a few months ago, I noticed a sign up sheet for the spring CYO track season. I asked a few questions and found out the school that my children, ages 11 and 7, attend would only be able to field a team for grades Kindergarten through 3 if someone volunteered, as the guys who coach the older kids already had their hands full. I knew my first grade daughter would love to run, and immediately and generously offered my husband, an experienced track and cross country athlete and official, as coach. I informed him of his new responsibility and realized my error when he looked at me as if I were nuts. He manages two local offices of a large engineering firm, and had just been made vice-president. A “real” runner, and a former college athlete, he loves the sport, but didn’t have the time. I offered my apologies to the coaches, whereupon they asked why I couldn’t do it instead.

Me? I had run since high school, but never for a team, and always because it allowed me to do one of my favorite things; eat whatever I like. When I met my husband, running became something we did together. As poor graduate students, newly married, running was our social life. When the kids came along, it was my convenient and flexible, always available health club. But I knew nothing about coaching!

The other coaches reminded me there was no one else, and without a coach, the K-3 kids would be left out. After being reassured they would help, and practice would consist mostly of playing duck duck goose, and looking hard at my son’s after school tutoring schedule, I hesitated. Then I thought about my daughter’s enthusiasm for the sport. For the past 3 years she has run the LVRR Kid’s Running Series, and she loves it. OK, so how hard could it be?

The track season would consist of twice weekly practices for the 8 kids that were assigned to me. We had three meets scheduled. I went to the first practice telling myself they needed me, and I could fake it if I had to.

The two experienced coaches were right. The kids had varying levels of ability, but a consistently high level of enthusiasm. It was difficult to get them to stop running at practice. It was also difficult to get them to stop picking dandelions, get up of the ground, leave the cinders on the track and be quiet when I was talking. I made the mistake once of telling them I didn’t want to see anyone slow up at the finish line and do the “three step die” as they stumbled across the line. I demonstrated the difference between a strong and a weak finish, exaggerating to make my point. For the next two weeks I had to wait while they demonstrated spaghetti western-like deaths at the finish line.

Within the first week I went to the Internet, determined to educate myself and find good training tips. I felt the responsibility of teaching these kids who trusted my judgement. I realized for some of them, I would be their first coach. Time to pony up.

We did warm up laps and stretched. I told them how important it was to wear good comfortable shoes, and drink water, but not too much. We talked about sunscreen and sore muscles. I told them what I knew about where your arms and legs should be. When I told them to run looking up and not at their feet, one boy literally ran his entire lap staring at the sky. They ran hills and never complained. They did shuttle relays over and over. They worked hard at every practice and were happy to do it.

The first meet was a learning experience for us all, and as the season has progressed I have seen the naturally talented in the group do things that stun me with their grace and nonchalance. The less gifted have been diligent, improving slowly and in some cases, miraculously. Overall, they have never stopped smiling and trying. They give 100%, all the time, no complaints. What a gift.

In the end, I realize it would have been easy to be one of the lawn chair parents, watching practice while someone else coached my kids. After all, no one could have been less qualified than me. But when someone asks you, sometimes for the good of others and the sport, you have to say yes. Running has given me so much over the years and it was time for payback. I think of the old question; if not me, who? If not now, when? Say yes, volunteer, help. It’s that simple, and worth every minute.