Sunday, March 6, 2016

Advice for Coaches of a Common Sport, Common Season

There is a shared experience between graduates on both sides of Winton Drive in Concord, California that can sometimes be difficult to explain. Having graduated from Carondelet High School, I hold the same amount of school pride for my alma mater as I do for De La Salle. When either team succeeds, I savor the victory—without distinction. Call me a glutton for glory. Who knows. Furthermore, having taught at St. Ignatius College Prep for the past 12 years, I delight in the success of my own students' accomplishments in sports. Looking at photos from the NCS and CCS boys and girls basketball championships, I am reminded of what athletes can learn and gain from sharing a common season. 
Congratulations to Carondelet for winning the D-2 NCS title!
Coaching junior varsity girls golf for the first time was not only more worthwhile than I anticipated, it was more fun too. But, it would have been even more fun had our season included one thing—the boys' team. Last spring, I drove the varsity boys to the CCS championship and played with them during their practice round. They pulled all kinds of pranks that only boys do. They hit for sheer power off the tee in the way their egos need them to. They trash talk and yet they help one another in subtle ways. It was different than what I encountered with the girls' team. My girls await psyche buddy gifts on game day. They get stronger and even more flexible than you might think. Their putting is totally up and down (that works for everyone). The uniqueness of each team could easily add to a great mix.
I love the team photo because it reveals something about this Spartan family. Again, if you didn't know what the head coach, AJ Kuhle looks like, I don't think you would from this either...
Unfortunately, local golf courses cannot manage boys' and girls' programs during a singular season. Consequently, girls play in the fall and boys in the spring. The same can be said for tennis and for volleyball. Indeed, some things are lost in this separation, but I know other things are gained, too. Regardless, I appreciate what develops between athletes, teams and programs when they share space, time and common goals. In many cases, it's similar to a sibling rivalry. One competes for attention and glory. Resentment and jealousy can breed. But I would like to think at their best, like brothers and sisters, a rich bond can develop. I do not believe however this is the norm. 

I offer a challenge and some humble advice to those coaches who work with a single sex team that is "in season" with another: enhance that relationship as best you can. Here are but a few suggestions of what you can do.
St. Ignatius girls' win the CCS title at Santa Clara University
Make a point of attending the other team's game at some point during the season. It will generate a different type of conversation between the athletes. They will raise questions, they will appreciate what they do, they will pick up on nuance and fine tune their own. Good stuff. A loftier goal might be to attend a preseason, regular and postseason game if/as possible!

Play with and against one another. Competition between the sexes can be ridiculously fun. There are ways to handicap the contest so as to equalize the playing field; this need not be viewed as a negative thing. Be creative! Invite your athletes' input. 

I think "play" in practice is under-utilized and under-appreciated by my fellow coaches. I will never forget the cross country runner who wrote on coaching evaluations that "practice is boring. All we do it run." While we wondered if this student athlete had totally missed the memo about our sport, I understood what he/she was talking about. Make time for recreation within your sport.

Coach the other team's practice. Why not? Run your workout as you would with your own team. Share your unique skills and drills. A different point of view can add a lot.

Attend a collegiate or professional game together. Take both teams to see how it's done on the next level. It's possible that this contest will favor the men's sport over women's, but the shared experience can help all student athletes see with new eyes.

Pray for one another. I cannot stress this enough. I think teachers should pray for their students everyday. I believe that coaches ought to pray for their athletes everyday. Teams are no different. Pray for each other regularly, and invite prayers for the boys or girls team. It's a shared endeavor—competing in a sport. Ultimately, athletes are working toward a common goal. Pray in a way that invites God's blessing on both communities.

Serve together. Our teams love to be known for who they are and what they do. This point of pride is a wonderful thing but best when coupled with humility. Sometimes it's harder to be served than to serve. I've never participated in a corporal work of mercy when the ones I thought I would be serving didn't end of serving me and teaching me more than I could have anticipated.

The day after our big rivalry game, the Bruce Mahoney, the SI girls team came to school still upset by their performance. The boys' team didn't. They held their heads high and reveled in the praise that echoed throughout the halls. At CCS, the tables turned. Our girls beheld the winner's trophy and the boys were deflated by a loss in a very close game. That contest didn't end with handshakes on the court. No, they looked up to find their fans offering a standing ovation; many who were leading that cheer were the same varsity girls who played a few hours before.

Our athletic programs have the inherent ability to cultivate so much of what a family can: shared joy and agony, winning and losing, friendship and faithfulness. I think the choice is...the coach's.

Photo Credits
All from Twitter @Carondelet_HS, @dlsathletics and @SIScores

No comments:

Post a Comment