March 5, 2015

Try Outs Teaching Bravery

I'm coaching LIttle League again this year.  As with anything I haven't done in almost a year, nervousness gets mixed in with the excitement.  Normally these things are like riding a bike.  The getting on is the difficult part, balancing and pedalling comes back easy.  In the beginning of new (or new this calendar year) ventures, I have moments of panic.  Am I going to know what I'm doing?  What if I fail those innocent little players who just want to learn how to excel at baseball.  I might embarrass myself or disappoint parents and players.  What if I fail my own kid?

In the beginning I always have to fake the confidence.  It comes back to me slowly as the season goes along.  Oh yeah, I remember how this goes.  I've got this now.  But that mindset doesn't make it's appearance until about two weeks into the undertaking.  For now, panic and angst rule.

Luke is old enough to play at a level in which he has to go through evaluations.  Last night was the big show.  "Evaluations" are just a nice way to say try-outs.  Nobody gets cut at this level, but they may be placed at a higher or lower level than they wish.  I get that this is a necessary piece in creating even teams with spread out playing levels.  You don't want a bunch of kids who have never played all on one team and another team filled with kids who wear their gloves in the shower and eat baseballs for lunch.  There are also safety concerns of having a kid with less experience playing at too high a level.

These evals were just a two minute snippet of each of the kids' talent.  Two minutes doesn't give a clear picture of throwing, fielding, batting and base running but I don't want to spend the next two weeks watching kids try-out.  I'm sure the other coaches have the same sentiment.  A few hours on a Wednesday night and a fun-filled Saturday is quite enough to spend asigning numbers to 100 kids' skills.

It's really hard to watch them all because I've been in their shoes.  I absolutely hated any sort of "evaluation."  Still as an adult, I have a reoccurring nightmare.  I'm in the outfield during try-out week.  All the coaches sit by the fence with their taunting clipboards.  Their menacing pens make evil assumtions while they record the atrocities.  They all watch as an easy grounder makes it's way into my glove.  The fielding part is never the problem.  Without fail, in my nightmare, I take the ball out of my glove and try to throw it in to the cut-off, but my arm is a traitor.  It ceases to work and fails me in my time of need.  No matter how hard I try, I can never throw the ball.  Sometimes my arm makes some sort of motion but the ball ends up driblling on the ground in front of my feet, miles away from where it's supposed to go.  The dribble only happens if I'm lucky.  Most of the time I can't even get the ball out of my hand.  Those seams are stuck in my palm and I'm doomed.  I will never make the team now.

I'm smart enough to know that these tryouts had a huge emotional impact on me, especially if they are still haunting my dreams, but I also know they were necessary.  Not only were they necessary because I wanted to play sports, but they were a necessary part of prepping me for adulthood.  I didn't realize it at the time, but being a grown-up is filled with evaluations.  There are the formal types like job interviews and professional peer reviews, but there are the informal ones like making social connections and having your neighbors be okay with letting their kids play at your house and not think you'll poison their babies.

So these eight to twelve year olds had to stand in line for an hour. When it was their turn they stepped up to the line, threw a few pitches, then ran over to field a few balls.  Keep in mind that this was in a gym and they were fielding bouncing baseballs on a basketball court.  Then they stepped up to the plate to hit a few off the pitching machine.  It all ended with a sprint to gage their running abilities.  No warm ups.  No loosening up of arms or legs.  All with watchful coaches sitting their making notes with their villainous pens.

For most of these little guys (and one girl) this was their first experience with try-outs.  My heart went out to them.  I could feel the nervousness eaking out of their pores.  I was more wary of the kids who weren't nervous.  I wrote a "C" by their number because I wanted to make sure I don't have any cocky kids on my team.  I can't coach that out.  There's a difference between confidence and arrogance.  My read on these kids may be completely innacurate, but I don't want to take a chance on that.  Yes, yes, I'm judging ten year olds now.  But I can't help it, the man put this whole process on me.  Get off my back!

I wish I could have told all the nervous kids.  I get it.  Don't worry, you'll survive.  You'll make it through this night, even if you fall on your butt and miss every single pitch.  You'll live and next time you come through one of these atrocious assessment of skills, you'll have gained an inch more confidence.  And by the way, I'm not only looking at how well you do tonight.  I also want to see coachability.  Do you have a good base of skills and a good learning attitude.  Will you be open to teaching?  Will you work together with your teammates?

That's all really hard to tell in two minutes, but my evil, red, evaluating eyes were looking for that too.  I wish I could have whispered some of that into their ears.  Encouraging words might have helped a little.  I wish I could have eased their fears.  It would have been nice to tell them that I was nervous too.  I'm a grown-ass woman and I still fear that I won't be good enough.  I'm the only lady coach in a sea of masculinity.  I don't want to give the moms a bad reputation.  I want to prove that girls can be just as good coaches as boys.

They were all so brave and I was proud they all got up there and showed us all what they were made of.  Bravery and confidence are cultivated.  Kids are not born with those skills.  Even though try outs seem icky, they were a chance for each of those kids to step over the monsterous nervous energy.  Bravery was practiced in that gym last night.  Gold medals were pinned on all.

I'm not going to lie though, I did write, "PICK HIM!!!!" next to the nine year old who performed better than most of the twelve year olds.  Because this Mom Coach is going to beat ALL THE OTHER TEAMS, with bravery, good attitude and humble confidence, of course.

No comments: