The promise of a new season as a coach or athlete

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 16, 2022, 2:12 PM | comments: 0

My friends have a good laugh when I tell them, "Go, sportsball!" in reference to whatever it is that they follow. My appetite for professional sports isn't high, and instead of doubling down on always failing sports teams like most native Clevelanders, I went the other way. My superbowl is getting to see the women's national volleyball team play in the Olympics every four years. And yeah, 2021 (technically 2020) was a great year.

Volleyball is a sport that I know and understand well. It really is a sport of predictable outcomes, and if you can teach people how to react to what's happening and anticipate the outcomes, you can build a great team. I coached high school girls for years prior to marrying Diana and moving to Seattle, and I had what I would consider a lot of success. As much as I would like to credit that to adapting a system that used speed to compensate for size and athleticism, the biggest factor was that I mostly had really motivated kids. My teams consistently punched above their weight class, so to speak, and we won a lot of tournaments.

As a coach, you're usually one of the first people in the gym. Most memories of any gym for any coach or athlete consist of the shouting and cheering and sneaker squeaks on the floor. But just as important to me were those moments of walking into that wide open space, turning on the lights, with no sounds other than the HVAC blowing. Sometimes it included those old lights that made a 60-hertz hum. The reason that these memories are just as vivid for me is because my mind would fill in the blanks about what was possible in that space. Kids could do things they couldn't do before. Teams would form bonds that would last a lifetime. In that dark gym, the future was unwritten, uncertain and exciting.

That potential was limitless, but of course not inevitable. There were always difficult things, like injuries, conflicts, entitled parents (raising entitled kids), days where nothing clicked. But there were perfect plays, new skills being mastered, tournaments won and happy memories made. The range of emotions felt in the drive home was wide, but intense at both ends.

I don't think that there are many things we can do in life that have quite that amount of intensity. There are some close approximations, smaller in scope that I've experienced. Setting up for a big TV shoot, putting up a community theater show, putting together a large presentation with others... those are exciting. But there may never be anything with quite the same reward as leading a team of young athletes for me. And intense as that process was, I'm not sure if I could handle it with everything else, especially parenting and work. It takes a lot out of you.

That moment in the quiet gym though... few things have ever caused greater optimism in me.


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