Observations for New Coaches

Posted on August 23, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

circle of feet

When I first heard about Girls on the Run three years ago, I knew I had to coach.  I read everything I could find and cried the whole time. Why wasn’t there a program like this when I was a kid?  It would have saved me infinite time and pain.  The more I learned about the organization, the more I knew it was for me.  Building confidence in young girls through running—could there be anything more perfect?

I now have the privilege of training our council’s coaches.  There is so much to cover on training day, however, that there’s not time to tell them everything I wish I could.  These are just a few things.

It’s ok to be afraid.

I (over)prepared for my first coaching season—6th-8th graders—but as day one approached, I was scared to death.  It was the idea of Girls on the Run, I realized, that attracted me.  I hadn’t really considered the fact that coaching meant I’d actually have to talk to girls.  But the program is experiential.  That means we have to do things together.

What did I know about kids, after all? I don’t have any. My nieces live halfway across the country.  My foray into teaching kids lasted one morning in a preschool—3 hours of enough finger paint to shellac the entire school, more full and exploding training pants than I care to remember, and infinite Oreo cookie crumbs smeared in places that were never designed to see them.  Not for me, thanks very much. I chose to stick with teaching adults instead.

So when week #1 rolled around and I found myself facing a dozen middle school girls, I was terrified.  What if I said something stupid? Or, worse, what if one of them did and I didn’t know how to respond? What if someone came to me for help and I failed her? Would I even know they were asking—did we speak the same language?  Not English or Spanish or anything you could pick up through Rosetta Stone.  What I mean is, would we relate?

It took a couple of weeks, but I figured something out.  Everything I felt and thought and feared—they did too.  I may have had the words to express myself (or the wisdom to choose not to) where the girls were just learning.  But the main thing they needed was to be heard, to know that not only did they have a voice, but that their voice mattered.  They needed the space to take hold of their voice, and then to run with it.

As the season went on, my fear slowly subsided. I even added two words to my vocabulary:  Awesome and joy.

Be real.

Being a coach can be tough.  You’re not their mother (even if you are). You’re not their teacher (even if you are).  And—don’t panic about this one—you’re not their friend.  You are an amalgamation of all these roles and none of them.  You are there to care for, guide, and mentor the girls on your team.  You are there to serve.

Many organizations talk up “service,” a word so overused that we often take it for granted. Even McDonald’s serves.  I’ve had to ask myself what it really means to serve, and I find a clue in the first part of our mission statement: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident…”  To inspire means that something external activates something internal.  The internal piece is already there, whole and (im)perfect.

We are not there to fix anyone.  To fix implies that something is broken.  We are not there to help anyone.  To help implies that they are somehow lesser, incomplete, unfinished.  We are not there to save or rescue anyone. This implies that they are lost.

We are there to serve:  The whole in you, with all your (im)perfections, to meet the whole in them—mind, body, and spirit.  To do this, you must open your heart.  You must be authentic and real. Kids are smart. They can sense when someone is posing. They will accept you and like you, no matter what, as long as you are you.

If you let it, it will change you.

Coaching for Girls on the Run appeals to people for a variety of reasons.   Some coaches are parents or teachers who see the struggle of tweenhood first-hand and wish to somehow alleviate it.  Others remember it, wouldn’t go back there in time for a bazillion dollars, and want to alter the trajectory of someone else’s life, to show them how to save time and pain.  And then there are the runners.  Those of you who know that running saves lives, because it’s saved yours.

If you embrace your fear and open your heart, your life will be different because of your team.  They are wise without knowing it, and will say things that blow you away.  You will see the look on their faces when they run, and it will stop you in your tracks.  My hope is that you will come away from your experience with a new word added to your vocabulary too:  Joy.

Someone asked me just yesterday, how do you tell a girl to be confident?  You don’t.  You show her.  Not only that she can reach inside and pull out the beauty and greatness that’s already there. You demonstrate it yourself.

How incredibly fortunate we are to have such amazing coaches who can do just that.


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Your best post ever! Beatiful.


Thanks! 🙂


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