Sunday, June 12, 2011

For The Love of the Team

Sports have always been an integral part of my life.  Always.

I played basketball from the time I was 7 until, well, I've never stopped recreationally. 

I played softball all through grade school and college.

And in the middle came numerous other sports- Rowing, Rugby, Field Hockey, Soccer, Baseball, Golf, and the list continues.

I am an athlete and I use that term with confidence.  I push myself for the love of the sport and for the betterment of me as a person and as a competitor. 

And for my team.

I began coaching when I was in high school.  I coached girls' 7th and 8th grade girls basketball with ease and fun.  And while I didn't fully pursue coaching beyond the walls of my high school until I was teaching, I knew it was something that I wanted within my future.

I helped coach softball at the last school where I taught but with walking away from the school I also walked away from the team.

For the past three of the four years I've been teaching at my current school, I've been coaching.  And to say that I've been enjoying myself- even in times of greatest trials- is an understatement.  To be able to watch young women learn and excel at a sport that they love is an incredible feeling and to know that you are a small part of that is ever better.

Yesterday I was given an awesome opportunity to watch as a team of young women, whom I've known for the entire time I've been teaching at my current school, defied odds, challenged critics and worked together as a cohesive and supportive team.  They worked their way to a sectional state title in softball and yesterday they went to take the all over state title.

They didn't take the title but they walked off that field with their heads held high and smiling, some through tears.  It was a day that ended something that seems to become more special each year, at least for me. 

As a player I never found it that difficult to end a season.  Many of my seasons ended on high notes which may have made it easier, but they also ended with the knowledge that next year would be here before we knew it and the teammates that were with me would be returning. 

As a coach I find it far more difficult to say goodbye to a season because so often the players leaving are leaving for good.  They are heading to college.  They are moving forward into new frontiers that I distinctly remember myself moving into.  They are growing up and moving into the next chapter which can only be better than the one before.

And that is, often, sad.  Especially when the players are people that you not only enjoy watching on the field but they are individuals whom you enjoy interacting with off the field, as well.

Looking ahead, for me, has been difficult.  I have already made the decision to walk away from coaching basketball next season.  I had to.  The fact that my due date is 4 days before the opening of the season necessitates my taking a break from the program.  My hope is that I can get back to the sport in the following season but I'm not sure that will happen.

Looking to next Spring has been even harder because of the uncertainties of what the next year will bring.  I can only hope to be this sad next year at this time because I have had the honor of being with a team who has worked just as hard and come just as far as this year's team.  But I fear the expectations and the changes ahead.

I take each day as it comes and right now I'm steeped in the moment of melancholy and pride that yesterday brought.  What tomorrow will bring is completely unknown and while that is frightening it also exciting because just like every new inning brings with it a new chance to put the bat on the ball or play defense against a batting team, tomorrow brings with it possibilities of building up the team and remembering the love of the sport and the love of the team.

And as an athlete, sometimes that's all that is needed.


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