Friday, June 10, 2016

I was a coach once...of tennis


It was toward the end of my first year of teaching. Things were going well. I was helping students make the ugliest yearbook ever (not on purpose, but you've got to start somewhere, right?) when I was approached by one of the seventh grade science teachers and the athletic director.

"We've got a proposition for you..." Athletic Director said.

They didn't seem angry, so I know I didn't do anything wrong.

"We were wondering," dramatic pause, "if you'd be willing to help coach tennis next year."

"Whaaa?" I started to say. "I took tennis lessons, like, once back when I was a tadpole."

"Since the other coach's wife is having triplets and is taking the season off, we thought you'd be a fun and energetic assistant coach. It will be just for one season."

I mean, I was already rockin' it as a track coach, right? Why not throw myself at the mercy of Tennis Moms in their skorts.

"Um, sure?" I said.

I mean, this was the end of my first full year of teaching. I survived. Staff members seemed to like me. I finished advising my first yearbook ever, and no one died. I was coaching track for the first time, right out of the gates, so why not add another sport I knew nothing about. It was like Russian Roulette.

"Which sport will I coach next?"

Spin the wheel!

"Camel Wrestling!"

Like, how bad could it be?

It's the same question Daniel asked himself when he walked into the lions' den. He became a hero. I made parents dislike me. The only similarity to the story is we both came out alive.

Barely.

So the August of my second year came around, and just as I was sinking into the groove of another year, aiming to be better than I was the year before, my first quarter, one of the most important quarters of the year, was infiltrated with tennis. I didn't get the chance to stay in my room right after school and plan or work uninterrupted. Instead, I had to head out to the tennis courts. In August.

You've met August, right? It's the month your face melts off.

Here's the thing about track -- sure, we've got 200+ kids participating. It's a no-cut sport. If a kid will compete at varsity level, the time won't lie. The height or length they jump won't lie. The distance they throw a shot put or a discus isn't a ruse. There are hard cold facts staring us in the faces as a track coach. It's easy to tell who is the best. And the best part is, it can change.

Tennis is a cut sport.

Apparently, there are good tennis players and there are bad tennis players. There are levels of good and there are levels of bad. I can easily tell you what bad looks like. I cannot tell you what all the levels of good look like.

And, based on my ignorance of the sport, I had to form a boys' team.

I sat and watched them play against each other and decided that these kids right here were the best players, while those players over there will talk to their parents so I can get phone calls because they didn't make the team.

I created my roster. I made it known. And then, I found out a I cut a player that made the team the previous year. There was definitely a phone call about that. The smart thing to do would've been to look at the previous year's roster and then form the team based on that, and then fill in the gaps, right?

Nope. Not me! I just threw tennis balls at kids. If I hit them, they were on the team!

Best. Team. Ever.

Of course, we let that cut player join the team. I had no qualms about that. I think there were almost 18 boys on the team that year. There were normally, like, 10 or 12. I was like Oprah handing out positions:

"You get to be on the team! You get to be on the team! Everybody gets to be on the tennis team!"

It had to be obvious I had no clue what I was doing. I followed the other coach's lead, and she was wonderful to coach with, but you can't make up for ignorance. I knew I was a warm body for just one season, but that didn't make anyone who took the game seriously feel any better.

The rule of thumb? Don't let on. I desperately tried, but letting on and not letting on is a slippery slope.

Someone's going to catch you.

If there were phone calls or nasty comments, I never heard them. None of the parents had the gall to come up to my face and tell me.

I would've just agreed if they had.

"You're the worst. You have no clue what you're doing. Your coaching is worse than sub-par. You coach tennis like a centipede dances. You smell like feet!"

"I know! You're right!"

Bwaaaaaaah!

Instead, they went to the other coach and complained about me. I don't think there were very many -- maybe just one -- but she was one of those moms...

Oh, you just knew.

Luckily, I had the athletic director behind me (it was her idea for me to coach!) and I had the support of the girls' coach. Nothing could hurt me!

To some of the parents, I just wanted to say: "You have no power here. Be gone, before a house drops on you!"

This ain't the Olympics, yo!

But you dare not say that to Suburban Parents Where One Sport Will Rule Them All.

Instead, I kept my head down, said "yeah! Go team!" and kept my head above water, both in the classroom and out on the tennis courts. Teaching and coaching do not get easier during the second year. It's almost worse. You stop being naive and begin to realize your inadequacies.

Feeling inadequate is pretty brutal.

I came to find out later that year that the other coach, the one with the triplets, was going to take a second season off. The athletic director and the other coach asked if I would do it again.

One season was enough. I politely declined.

But, at the end of the season, the players (both boys and girls) got both of us coaches a giant tennis ball and signed it.

I keep it showcased on the top of a bookcase at school like a "Survivor" trophy. And if a student asks where it came from, I just say, "Well, for one season and one season only, I coached tennis."

"You were a coach?"

"Am a coach," I say. "I am a coach."

"What do you coach?"

"Track."

"I didn't know you were a track coach..."

And let the circle be complete.