Thursday, February 5, 2009

You never know

Last year I signed up to coach my oldest son's co-ed basketball team. Upon entering the coaches' meeting, I discovered that I was the only female head coach in the league. I tried not to let my nerves get the best of me; after all, this might be my first time, but the kids were just six and seven years old!

I have no daughters with whom to share my skills and philosophies. Basketball would be my chance to make a difference in girls' lives! I would be fun! A knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher! A great role model! I got my roster-- and one girl graced the list. ... No matter! She would be my star!

Or so I thought. Minutes into the first practice, I could tell that she would be a challenge. She was not at all motivated or even interested in touching the ball. I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.

During games, she was content to stand in the middle of the fray, twirling her long blond hair around her fingers. Don't get me wrong-- she took it well when someone plowed her down on the way to the basket. But her parents and I continued to hope.

And then: oh frabjous day! It was the middle of the season and my ridiculous sideline antics spurred her to dribble the ball. She barely made it past half court and the referee gave her MUCH leeway in the double dribbling department. But she was able to pass it to a teammate! We cheered! We clapped! Progress!

At a subsequent game, there was a "loose ball" (no one had possession of it at the time) that caught her eye. She pondered it for a moment before seizing it and dribbling through the crowd. I don't even remember what happened next because I was overcome. Initiative! Aggression! We were getting somewhere!

I never saw her again.

Her father called a few weeks after that game to tell me that she had lost interest in basketball. I was heartbroken. What had I done wrong? He assured me that it wasn't me or my coaching skills. It was just his daughter being herself. I tried to shake it off, but it was difficult.

Sometime later I was packing up after a practice with my all-boy team. Families had arrived to pick up their little athletes so there were extra people milling around. I turned to address my son and for a fleeting moment, caught a girl staring at me. She was probably ten or eleven, too old to be playing in this league. Our connection was so brief that it took a moment to process the look on her face. But it was staggering.

I admire you. I want to be like you.

Maybe I was just trying too hard. All I needed to do was be there, for all the little girls in the crowd.
This year, I have two girls on my team. And they have stuck with me all the way.

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