A Season Gone By
For the past few months, I've been coaching kids who have been playing Ultimate twice as long as I have. In this blog post, I'll be covering my (limited) experience as a coach. I'll go over basic structure of practices, my challenges, and my successes.
I didn't expect I would become so involved as a coach. Having been captain last year, it was only natural that I try it out. When given the opportunity last October to begin coaching, I leapt at it. It didn't matter the pay, the time, or who I was working with. After a short trial run with a middle school camp, I jumped at the next opportunity: coaching a High School B-team. Now, I found myself working with premier club players and professionals. Jon Lee and Raphy Hayes, world's level players, were my guides.
If you want to master something, teach it. -Richard Feynman
While I wasn't given the creative freedom I once had as a captain, I found myself learning as I coached. I would listen to Jon and Raphy, having no idea what they were talking about, and turn around to teach the material. I took notes on what I learned. I answered questions I likely didn't have the right to answer. Everything Jon and Raphy said made sense, but I had never had the words or the opportunity to understand.
A Standard Formula
Coaching ultimate frisbee follows a pretty standard formula. You have them throw, warm up, and do a drill. Then you have them scrimmage in a game designed to test their new skill. You introduce a new skill, or revisit one, and do it again. Then, you run a standard scrimmage to end out.
I'm accustomed to college: expectations can be set high. Adults are making the choice to play, and they hold themselves to high standards. Middle school was a rout, expectations are completely pointless. At this age, getting them to play is the most important thing. Are they not crying? Awesome.
As the kids get older, they become more independent. They lead the warm-ups. They teach the newer kids the basics. It becomes easier to focus on the tactics. I like that part.
The goal of coaching younger kids is inspiring them to love the sport. It isn't improvement. As someone who fetishizes improvement, I found it difficult to refrain from criticizing. My job was to make sure everyone was having a good time first and develop their skills later. I suppose those become more synonymous with age.
My second challenge came in the form of deciding who would not make the team I was coaching. Coming from a DIII scho0l, that is unheard of. We accepted everyone, provided they came to practice. We would teach them anything, if they asked. Now, I had to play judge, jury, and executioner. For kids. I struggled with names, I struggled with feeling bad about turning away eager faces. I put more effort into rejection emails than any effort-minimizer would. I gave due consideration. If I had to turn away players, I would give them everything I could to keep them interested. Youtube videos, hand drawn drill diagrams, paragraphs. It was all a bit ridiculous, and the head administrator made fun of me for it. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
My last challenge, and one that I am still working on, is my own imposter syndrome. I watch the A-team from the sideline, and I worry: are my throws this good? Am I this quick? I'm 22, and I'm already afraid I am washed. I'd like to think this is a good thing: a little bit of fear keeps the gears turning. I'd like to label this fear as unfounded, that I can dumpster on these kids any time I chose to. But I have struggled with injury the last couple months and am recovering from a broken knee. It'll be a time before I am confident enough in my body to let loose. This is a fear that I will have to master, a fear that I will need to use as motivation. And I won't have any evidence that my efforts are working, for now.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain
I've made the practice squad of a professional team. I am still intimidated by high schoolers with double my experience. I choose to laugh at this, because it's funny.
Embracing the Small Wins
Coaching has given me the opportunity to gain confidence. My advice led to improvement. When I see one of my players put in place something I mentioned to great success, their success is mine as well. When they explain to another player what I explained to them, I've done my job. When they say “I don't know” to something we haven't yet explained, and they seek guidance, I have done my job well. Leadership is strange in that its results are like dominoes, rather than a scoreboard. I'm learning to enjoy that.
The culmination of our season was last weekend, at the Seven Hills Invite. My team, OYU B, was seeded the worst performing squad at the tournament. We were. But we improved. We scored more than the game before without fail, and we did so against better teams. A spectator labeled us as “disciplined” (and boy did that make my heart soar). We worked the disc up the field, stringing passes together like a work of art. Athleticism and power beat our squad of freshman and sophomores, not clean play. We could have set flat forces, or given away easier under cuts, and a whole host of other things. There's always more to do. I am proud of the work our squad put in, and I am impressed by how we tied together the quickest club season I have ever seen.
Coaching is not something I expected to love so much, but it has become a highlight of my week. It's brought both my strengths and weaknesses to the forefront and has caused me to grow. All I can conclude is that I will keep doing it when I can.