Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Ministry of Coaching: Extend an Invitation to Young People...Especially Girls

Sitting at a table with the female coaches at a Colloquium on the Ministry of Coaching, I shared with nine other women an important realization. I said "I don't know that I ever thought about being a coach when I was in high school, and I had two female coaches. One of my coaches was an excellent coaching, meaning—she went on to coach at the collegiate level. I'm not sure why I didn't think of being a coach. I know that no one ever asked me to consider being one. If someone had, I wonder what I would have said." 

The women sitting beside me were less than 20% of those in attendance at this wonderful gathering— a meeting of 64 different coaches of more than 15 different sports from Jesuit secondary schools (in the western US). The school I work out sent nine attendees; I was one of two women in our group, and interestingly enough two of my male colleagues with me coach girls soccer. Not one woman in attendance coaches a boys' sport. In our three days together, I learned more than I know—and yet one thing became very clear. If we believe that coaching is a ministry, we must encourage young people to not only think of it as one, we must invite them to it.
Female teams have won 14 of UCLA's last 18 NCAA titles.
Four of their coaches discuss the pressures and rewards of what they do.
Today in class, I invited my students to consider this challenging, but life giving ministry. I said to them, "You have probably had some good coaches and some bad ones. As you know, the good ones can have a profound impact on your life." I wanted them to know that you do not need to be great athlete in order to coach; for example, some of the best players have not succeeded as coaches (Magic Johnson, Mike Singletary). Others have, but coaching demands skills that extend far beyond athletic talent. I added, "There are different types of coaches too. You can be a head coach or an assistant coach. Maybe you enjoy being in charge and serving as the face of the team.  You might be someone who wants to run your own program; others need to grow into that role. For some of you, helping where and as you can is your thing. If you love sports and enjoy participating in athletics, if you want to contribute to building a team and motivating others, think about coaching in your future. I guarantee that you will have good stories to tell and who knows, maybe a victory or two. Girls, there were only 10 of us at this conference; please consider coaching in your future."

I write tonight, though tired and behind on the work I missed while I was away, because I hope anyone who reads this blog will invite a young person to consider coaching. The invitation—by way of a question—has always been the approach to understanding vocation. For example, at the Colloquium's final mass, Father Paul Grubb, SJ: the downhill ski coach at Jesuit High in Porltand, Oregon urged us to ask the young people we coach the following two questions: Have you ever thought about entering the Society of Jesus? Have you ever considered a vocation to the priesthood? He said, "these questions, said with joy, honesty and enthusiasm might awaken a response that your athlete didn't know he had." It made me wonder how I would have responded if my tennis or track coach had said to me, "have you ever thought about coaching?"
My colleague and sister in coaching Jen and I had a fun and spirited debate on the first night of the Colloquium. The planning team had hoped to host Brandi Chastain as the keynote speaker. Chastain, a two-time Women's World Cup Champion soccer player and two time Olympic gold medalist, coaches at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. Bellarmine is a Catholic, Jesuit secondary school that is a home for 1600 boys. Jen believes that Chastain should be coaching girls; her influence and example would be wonderful for young women. I think it's more important that she is coaching boys. Boys rarely have female coaches; there's really no reason they shouldn't. You might be thinking, So what. Does it make a difference? Yes...No...and Maybe. It's ministry—God's work. Ultimately God is the head coach anyway. But there's more to both of those ideas...and questions...let's save that debate for the next Colloquium. I wonder how many more, if any, female coaches will join me.

NB: As mentioned in my presentation, I do not refer to high school sports as "men's soccer" or "women's volleyball." I use the descriptors "boys" and "girls." I truly believe that part of my job is to mold my 14, 15 and 16 year old golfers into becoming "women." They are not there yet...I know, I wasn't. That's part of the ministry.

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