Any team probably takes time to gel. Just as any group of people take time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each other. As we learn the things making each of us tick, the journey can be fascinating. Coaching football for the second year has led to different perspectives on the team building process. Today, we sit just over one month into our season of football. We have made it through the long days of August. Normally one of the warmest months of our year. We practiced each week day evening of the month. With the missed practice, here and there for most everyone involved. We battled moments of exhaustion to truly begin the assembly of our team. During my first year of coaching, the process of watching kids come together was missed. Who knows the reasons contributing to the missing out on noticing this phenomenon. Maybe my mind was busy getting the handle on a new experience. The second year has felt quite different from the first. There was always the year in between, where my decision was coaching football didn’t seem to fit. However, like anything we thought we wouldn’t miss, it can feel worth another try just in case. There was a different skepticism coming into this year, as most things were going to be different.
The first year of coaching felt unfamiliar. It didn’t occur to me at the time how much football wasn’t understood. In my mind, it seemed picking up coaching the game wouldn’t be too challenging. As watching the game had been a regular practice each fall. There became so much to learn about the intricacies of football. From the first practice of my first year the feeling of being a fish out of water persisted. Another challenge facing those first days had been the lack of time around kids. Coaching would involve learning how to interacted with them. As with interacting with anyone, the variable of cerebral palsy comes into play. The elements all left me feeling uncertain in unfamiliar territory. Attempting to learn a game enough to help teach it, along with the unfamiliar setting was a good challenge. The memory of how long it took to get comfortable sticks out. Because of the uncertainty, it felt as though many things might have been missed during that first year. The sense of gelling together doesn’t come to mind during the first couple months. As the season wore on things seemed to get better with all the winning our team was experiencing. The situation leaves me wondering if the gelling did happen earlier, but was missed. It’s possible the season began with overwhelming emotions. Finding me simply trying to gain my bearings.
It seems cerebral palsy can attribute to the challenge of gaining bearings. Each new situation can pose a multitude of challenges. Those obstacles could not only be physical, but emotional as well. When we head into an unfamiliar situation it seems the first thing to think about are the physical demands. There had only been a few experiences of being around a football practice in my life. Each of those experiences was spent as an observer and took place years ago. My attention then was casually observing the happenings during practice without focus on how things functioned. The first couple days left me with relative surprise. As one of the first things we worked on was small group learning. The teaching found me holding a tackle bag for kids to make contact. The troubled balance of cerebral palsy made that difficult, not knowing if I had the balance to endure contact from the kids. It turned out the balance was there two years ago. As the season went on the experience of holding the tackle bag became more familiar. Holding the bags led to a couple tumbles during the season, but the challenge helped my balance for all the times I didn’t fall. The experience of working with the kids during contact also helped me learn not to take balance so seriously. Helping me understand again in older age that we fall. The important part will always be getting up and trying again.
Interacting with the kids during that season taught me some emotional lessons as well. Again, lessons which didn’t seem apparent to me at the time. My thought going into coaching football was my cerebral palsy would cause kids to shy away. The belief of those reactions turned out to not be fair for the kids. They only seemed to be serving to protect myself. The feelings of being rejected because of my differences became pervasive to begin. With the progression of our season those ideas began changing. Comfort with the process of coaching started infiltrating my emotions. The interaction with the kids was more seamless with the approach of shortened days. The season provided time for me to understand where my skill set fit into the team. It was a learning process on many levels. One of the greatest experiences from that first year was learning how to encourage. The shyness seemed to dissipate when the opportunity to pick someone up presented itself. The courage to truly teach never really came to me during the first year of coaching. Even pointing out small tweaks was an idea that remained evasive. It truly felt like a learning experience around the interworking of a football team. The year seemed to fly by in a flash and though much was learned, it still left me feeling too uncertain for giving coaching a go the following year.
After sitting out of an activity it seems we can begin to understand how we felt about participation. The time away may remind us whether we actually enjoyed something or walking away might have been best. During the year, away from helping coach the Jaguars, it seemed important to stay connected. Not really knowing if coaching was something enjoyable, I thought an altered perspective could shed some light. So, the year away from helping on the field was spent attending each game from the stands. The goal became to write a blog about each of the games, telling the story from a different perspective. It would also allow more free time during the weeks to work on other things. The year of coaching felt as though it took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. The season wore on my feeling about cerebral palsy in relation to kids and parents. A year away might provide better perspective on coaching and the toll on my person. My decision turned out to be good for a couple different reasons. Life outside the fences was enjoyable, but not nearly as fun. The experience left me feeling detached, missing the evenings spent outside with the players, as the warmth of August gave way to the chill of October. When a few former players made it a point to say hello while waiting for their games to begin, I felt coaching must have had some impact. If the opportunity arose again, the hope was to help coach again would be feasible.
The opportunity to get back into coaching arose this year. All of the pieces seemed to fall into place and I wanted to help. This year has been different from the first year of being involved. During our first couple days of practice the difference in age was apparent quickly. The players seemed to maintain focus longer than in two years prior. Having little experience around kids as they grow, the advance in maturity felt noticeable. Handling my cerebral palsy has also felt easier in my second year of coaching. Having an understanding of how the practices were going to play out helped. Anytime there can be familiarity with surrounding, the impact of the disability becomes reduced. We have also practiced at the same location, even adding more comfort to the year. All of these situations have made for a more exciting experience this season. The comfort seems to free my emotions from the anxiety of the disability. Allowing me to learn more about coaching football and notice things going on at practice. The freedom has allowed better interaction with coaches, players, and parents alike. Things that didn’t seem to happen as freely during my first experience.
With the freedom from anxious feeling surrounding my disability, things have been more evident. The togetherness of the team during this young season has felt obvious. It seemed to begin after just a couple weeks of practicing each week day in August. The players were giving each other hand slaps of encouragement. As we put them through their running drills they started having the back of other players. The faster kids rooting on their teammates who might not be as quick. During their tackling drills, they would help one another up to their feet. Following a good hit between two players, you could hear them making sure they were okay jogging back to line up. The great part of hearing these things has been watching the kids rely on each other. As coaches, it feels as though we always try encouraging the kids. Complimenting good plays and positive effort being made. But, it would seem to mean more when coming from their peers. We can’t be out on the field with them, so if they encourage one another in practice, maybe they are more likely to do so during a contest. Having a group of players come together in this way would seem an ultimate goal. Respecting, encouraging, and playing for their teammate, with little division. Who knows, we might just be making a positive impact.
The decision to coach football for a second year has been rewarding. We are still in the early portion of our season. But, the comfort of being around the team has felt accelerated from a couple years ago. There continue to be challenging when relating my cerebral palsy to the experience. Still feelings of shyness creep up when around players and coaches. Those feeling are much better in my second year. The time has provided prospective over places where my help might be beneficial. And as the challenges of cerebral palsy inside the coaching experience become reduced, the ability to learn increases. Less time has been spent concerning the physical activities of coaching. Realizing the things that can or can’t be done on the field. The realizations of limitations leave more time to concentrate on learning football in greater depth. Helping me focus on our players, thinking about their strength and what may be their weaknesses. Thinking about ways they might be placed in positions to succeed. Cerebral palsy can make any new situation more challenging. The physical obstacles seem to lead to some emotional challenges. However, sitting it out doesn’t seem to help movement forward. The understanding that experiences become more familiar and in turn rewarding the next time seems the important part. If we take the time to become familiar with a situation, the next attempt could be even more rewarding.