Sports have always been a part of life. We spent summers playing golf and going to baseball games. The fall was spent watching college football. My father had Seahawk tickets, so once a year I went to a professional football game. During the winter, we spent time watching basketball. All sports were played in backyards with kids from the neighborhood. It was disappointing to find my athletic career would be limited to those backyard contests. Cerebral palsy would keep me out of organized sports with friends. However, there was still a joy in watching and going to games. When trying out for the basketball team in junior high, the opportunity came to be a manager. With my hampered athletic ability, it became the opened door to involvement with organized sports. The managing of basketball lead to an involvement with other sports like football and track. It was a fun experience to manage football along with track and field. Managing basketball that first year in seventh grade turned into managing basketball each of the following years of junior high and high school. Those years spent involved with basketball turned into my interest in coaching.
After graduating from high school, it seemed the ideal time to explore coaching. With the experience gained around basketball it seemed a good fit. Becoming an assistant basketball coach for 9th grade boys and girls contained endless moments of fun. After those two years of coaching basketball it was off to college for me. The opportunity to coach again didn’t come up until this summer. A buddy asked if being an assistant coach on his son’s football team interested me. It sounded like a fun way to spend the fall, so I jumped at the chance. It also provided a way to get back into coaching and working with youngsters, which I missed from being involved with basketball. Coaching football also brought about fears in me. How would the 8 and 9 year olds react to my cerebral palsy? Even though watching football has been a consistent part off my life, the idea of teaching kids how to play was slightly intimidating. Watching football and knowing how to teach the skills are two completely different things. It became clear pretty quickly this volunteer coaching position would involve learning the game while simultaneously teaching it.
The first few days were a whirl wind. Teaching players drills in small groups was challenging. Each drill seemed more unfamiliar to me than the kids. As we spent the first few days on the same drill, I was becoming familiar with how they were taught correctly. The players began to get more out of our work with each passing day. Most importantly was learning to bond with these 8 and 9 year olds while teaching them. It was a new experience working with these little guys. The fulfillment from working with them was immediate and caught me by surprise. Encouraging them and watching them grow has been awesome. Their reaction to cerebral palsy has also been both scary and fulfilling.
Many of the kids on our football team seem to take my cerebral palsy in stride. It feels my uncertainty and discomfort about teaching with CP out ways any discomfort they may have with the disability. The first couple days felt like I was on an island running the drills on the field. There are always parents watching the practice and other coaches observing my ability. Having no experience coaching football only added to the anxiety. Not only was there concern over teaching the drills correctly, there was also concern over whether parents would be comfortable with their kids working with a handicapped coach. With so much going on emotionally inside it was difficult to focus on teaching the skills. As practices, have come and gone my comfort level has improved. The fear of being asked to leave due to a parent’s discomfort with my CP has subsided. It may sound like an irrational fear, however the anxiety over the uncertainty feels real. Through the first couple weeks’ parents have thanked me for my help in coaching and mentioned my positive impact and ability in the role. Those comments certainly help with confidence in my role. They also remind me, no matter how small, I am making a positive impact. Each time my fear creeps up with the thought of quitting, I think about the impact that might have on the team. It forces me to refocus and continue on. There feels like something positive about the kids experiencing a coach with a disability. My role could carry an impact beyond simply attempting to teach a game.
Coaching continues to be an exciting part of life. The challenge of teaching basketball just after high school was a fun first taste. When it ended because of leaving for college, it became something I wanted to do again. This opportunity is inside a new sport, but the emotions are similar. Back then there was fear about reaction to cerebral palsy just like today. There was much more hesitancy then over speaking up, which is still felt today. However, this time I was thrown in the fire on the first day by running my own drill. The insecurity had to be let go because teaching had to be done. It helped get rid of my insecurities, give into the responsibility, and reminding myself to do my best. While going through the practices each week it’s the idea to focus on. Let go of what result might come and try to help the kids grow. If something goes wrong and it doesn’t work, then we’ll cross that bridge. But, so far, it has been an amazing experience. I hope to continue writing about it as we go through the year.