Anyone who has played ball as a kid knows what it means that I spent my first few years of softball in right field and batting at the bottom of the order. (For non-ball players, it means that I couldn’t field or hit. I was the weakest link.)
Our catcher, Karen, was one of the best players on the team, my secret hero, and the daughter of our coach. With Karen’s mom’s very patient coaching, over the years I slowly improved my skills and my confidence. And, as one of the team’s only “southpaws,” I eventually moved to first base, where I got to be part of the in-field action (and even got to play directly with Karen).
When you’re a kid, coaches are easy to recognize. You can pretty much rely on anyone taller than you to tell you what to do without having to ask them. When you’re a kid, the problem isn’t finding a coach. Rather, the problem is deciding whose directions to follow when multiple “coaches” (read: parents) are shouting at you all at once from the sidelines.
As our beloved coach, Karen’s mom taught us not only the rules of ball but also how to be part of the team, so I felt included even when I was standing alone in right field, completely frightened and praying that that ball wouldn’t be hit out to me.
I don’t remember ever thanking Karen’s mom for coaching me as a kid, but I’ve only recently come to fully appreciate Karen’s mom. Why? Because adults don’t get coaches.
More precisely, adults have to actively seek out folks who are willing to share their knowledge, time, and attention. From afar, you can follow every step of your idolized professional athlete. You can pay for a personal trainer. You can sneak peeks at other gym-goers, or read the how-to posters on the wall. But, generally, as soon as you are as tall as everyone else, you have to find a coach, then as her to tell you what to do.
Not everyone might feel that they need a coach, but I certainly do. Just as when I was little, I still feel a certain need to have someone not only to explain the basics but also to help bolster my confidence. As an adult, my body isn’t as resilient or resistant to injury as it used to be. (And neither is my pride, so I don’t want to screw up.) As I explain in my previous guest post on Athletic Learning, when it comes to exercise my M.O. is to research the rules and learn the techniques, rather than rely solely on inherent athletic skill (of which I have little). And in order to learn, I need someone to teach.
My first ever Zumba exercise class was last week. As I strained to keep up with the fancy salsa-esque footwork, I asked my co-worker, who was next to me, when the class instructor would begin actually teaching us the moves. “Usually they only do the steps, and the class just tries to follow along,” she informed me.
Just follows along? But I had questions! (Like, where did the weird name “Zumba” come from? Where do the moves come from? And why do Zumba-ers wear those bizarre tutus?) I needed some Socratic Zumba for this activity to be enjoyable.
Without taller people around who will automatically tell me what’s going on, I’ve had to look to more unconventional coaches. Here are some that I’ve found:
Coach #1: Mel, my physiotherapist – I don’t waste time chatting about my holidays or my newest hair colour with Mel. Instead, I pepper her with physical activity-related questions, trying to understand the mysteries of body mechanics, acupuncture, and glute-related pain. When I go to physio, I try to get more out of my visit than just stretching exercises and polite adult small talk.
Coaches #2: A bunch of 8 and 10 year old girls – The moms on my rec soccer team had the idea of bringing along their children (who are also awesome little soccer players) to our practice to help give us a lesson or two. Well, the girls LOVED coaching us adult soccer newbies. They broke us up into position-specific groups, ran drills, and even punished us with sprint lines when we failed to meet our objectives. In wonderful irony, everyone shorter was giving directions to everyone taller. Our practices alone have been more fun than any other athletic activity I’ve experienced in a long time.
Coach #3: This blog – When I feel there’s no one I can ask or I’m worried about looking silly, I do what millions of other people do: I go on the internet. This blog, in particular, is a valued “coach” for me in the way that it shapes my attitudes about athletics, body image, and health in positive and productive ways.
The best coaches don’t just explain the rules or show the steps. Instead, they strive to meet the player’s own unique goals and needs (whether they are physical, psychological, or both). The best coaches make fear and pain–and even failure–fun. And the best coaches improve not only your skill but also your attitudes towards your body and abilities.
So–maybe take a moment to think about who officially (or unofficially) coaches you, and thank them the next time you see them. As an adult (or at least a taller person), I find it humbling but also rewarding to reach out to all my unconventional “coaches,” who help me to enjoy athletic activities like a kid again.