Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Different Kind of Back to School Photo for Coaches and Teachers

At this time of year, Facebook is littered with the obligatory Back to School photos. I do love this tradition. These snapshots serve as a benchmark for much more than one year to the next. In some cases, it's one era to another—preschool to grade school and elementary school to high school. I have my own as this will be my 15th year at St. Ignatius. I had to swallow hard when I realized the kids in my classroom were BORN the year I came to the Prep. Gulp. But I had an even more poignant realization as I shared a photo in my recent talks on Sports and Spirituality. As the teacher, not the student, the subject of this photo—me—reminds me of who I am working with and hoping to inform and inform. THAT is why I am headed Back to School. Here's more.
This photo was taken during my sophomore year at Carondelet High School. One of my closest and dearest friends, Mary Frances (visor on my right) and I were the two sophomores who made the varsity tennis team. Our squad practiced at Willow Pass Park every day after school, during the Fall sports season. Because we were 15 years old, neither of us had our driver's license so we got a ride from the beautiful Jackie, who was a senior. She was kind and generous, taking us under her wing. She stands to my left.

I don't remember the particular match or reason why this photo was taken. And, to be honest, it's not a good photo. Honestly, what's up with my bangs? I haven't had those since...well, maybe this era. Furthermore, I am drinking a Sprite, not exactly a reputable pre-game beverage. So much for hydration, electrolytes, etc. Sure this was a pre-Sports drink era, but my attitude isn't convincing anyone that I'm about to play in a competitive league match. But what is most emblematic and problematic is the t-shirt I am wearing: it's the shirt of Notre Dame Crew. On one hand, I suppose it is telling. I rowed for four years in college, but on the other, it is totally unacceptable. Why it is ok that I am wearing a shirt from another school and another sport, while my teammates are donning our uniform. It's not. 

I see this photo and I am (somewhat) disgusted with myself. I see a girl who has determined that her own interests are more important than representing the team or her school. I want to stand out; I want to be different. This is not the place. I hope my coach said something to me; I can't recall if she did.

But I also think it's important for me to remember that I made choices similar to the ones my athletes have made today and in seasons past. I can be fairly strict with the dress code, following the rules and making the right decisions so that individual girls learn how to put the team before themselves. This is not a given; it is a process. I have a role in leading and guiding them there, and it's important to remember I once traveled the same trail. 
What I did in this photo actually became a problem when I coached girls' cross country. Before and after races, a number of girls would put on an SI lacrosse or soccer t-shirt or sweatshirt, in spite of the SI XC gear they owned. We had to make a team announcement in response to this decision, one that too many girls overtly and inadvertently made. We reminded them that they are a member of  SI Cross Country and you represent the team before, during and after your race. There are a time and place to wear other SI gear. Yes, it's a good thing to be proud of your school, your team, etc. but when you are with your teammates, especially on race day, you are part of something that needs to be made whole. SI XC is not just the top seven varsity runners; we don't train, practice, run or travel that way. We never will.

For many kids and for teachers, going Back to School isn't easy. Many students have anxiety about their new classes, social environments, fitting in and the challenges that await. However, you won't see that photo posted up on Facebook. And as a teacher and a coach, I have a lot of students and athletes to get to know, oversee, lead and guide. I believe it takes a lot of effort to get that plane off the ground. I also think it's important that we educators remember that we aren't all that different than those entrusted to our care. This crazy, not so attractive and funny photo reminds me of that truth. Perhaps I'll be a little gentler with those who break the rules but, that doesn't mean I won't hold my students and athletes to them. To be honest, it's a lot easier not to, but that's not who I want to be or who I want my students and athletes to be. We're in this together....all year/all season long.

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