The summer before I left for college over ten years ago, I received an email from the head coach at FMU giving very specific instructions about coming well prepared for fall practices and workouts. There were exercise and running schedules, plus a not so friendly reminder that she would know who did the summer workout, and who came to the first practice prepared.
Just as importantly, she would also know who did not.
So about as serious as I took my summer reading assignments from AP English teachers, I credited myself for at least reading through coach’s pre-season workout plan, then, called it a day.
When I arrived for the first fall running practice at 5am that freshman year, I can remember being nervous, but still confident, thinking, “oh common, how bad could this really be?”
In my mind, I was a decent player without doing any type of lifting or running on the side. I naively thought I could continue my career by relying on my athleticism to get me through. Combine that with being a typical 18-year-old teenage girl who was wanting to keep my small girlish figure by eating a whole lot of nothing, I had created the perfect recipe for a freshman disaster deluxe.
Prior to that morning, I had only known coaches that were always incredibly lackadaisical about running and training off the field. A couple of sprints here and there, maybe a few more after losing a game we should have won, but it was typically the coach that backed down, not the player needing to stop.
I had no idea that a 30-minute workout could be that physically and mentally demanding. We were on Coach’s clock, and well, she ‘owned’ us.
I felt the pressure, and there was a mutual understanding; from that first morning running forward, things were going to be different, my ways of practicing and playing were over, and although uncomfortable, I was going to get better.
I was pushed, broken, glued back together again by my teammates, or by athletic trainer Joe :), and I was expected to become a well-rounded player with a better physique, more speed, agility on my feet, to lift heavier, and endure longer. But more prominently, I had to start being able to decipher between my body saying I needed to stop, and my mind knowing I still had plenty left in the tank.
There is no doubt Coach V was tough, and I was convinced for months that she just wanted me to quit. That she would see it through that I would be packing my bags and not catching softballs, but instead the next flight home.
So, so far from the truth.
It took me awhile to realize, but to be a coach that produces players that can compete at a higher caliber of play, the player has to set aside the mentality that your coach is always going to be your friend. Everything is not always going to be roses and daffodils, and you’re not always going to have a stellar practice or workout every time you put on your gear and tie your shoes.
Believe it or not, you may not even be able to do everything asked of you, and your coach may be wanting you to go beyond the boundaries you had previously established for yourself. But as long as you step up to the challenge, give it your best shot, and you're willing to open yourself back up to giving it another try at a later time, that is how progress can best be created.
A coach is someone that you respect and trust, perhaps even at times fear, because you’re unsure what she could possibly have in store for you next. But you still succumb to her regimen, her plan, to help make you better. She recognizes your efforts along the way, but doesn’t accept your answer of, ‘I just can’t’, ‘it’s too hard’, or the infamous attempt to get a coach off your back, ‘I’m TRYING!’
Coach, along with the help of some incredible assistant coaches, essentially became our parent(s) away from home, where it was not only their job to get us out of college alive, but to help us become better, more well-rounded human beings. They were there to help us put the glove and ball down at the end of our senior year, and enter the world as adults, ready to work towards our new life goals.
As hard as it was at times, my college career taught me more about my mental and physical strength in four short years than in the countless years of ball before. I left with more knowledge about being self-disciplined, having more drive, being humble, and never settling for mediocre. My eyes were opened to life lessons that never could have been taught in a classroom or textbook; how to overcome the weaknesses our minds can have over our bodies, and to know that it’s ok to lean on others to help fill in the areas where you might need a little more help.
I have been able to carry these lessons with me into careers, friendships, relationships, and into my own personal health and physical upkeep throughout the years. They have got me through things as minute as getting past a rough night with my toddler. To things on a much larger scale, like getting through my first half marathon, and yes, even as big as getting through child birth.
It is because of the experiences I had in college, that I am able to self-affirm and talk myself through whatever doesn’t kill me, and realizing that once I’m on the other side, I have the opportunity to be stronger.
What an incredible gift.
And what an honor for any coach to hold that power of making an impact of that caliber on someone else’s life.
That right there is a lot of my why, a lot of my own personal drive behind my passion to coach.
Trust the plan, trust the process. The best coaches out there will take the time to push you and help you find the strength and talent you may have never even known you possessed.