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Published on October 19th, 2011 | by King James


Some Days Are Worth It

Coaching is a lot of work. Playing roller derby is a lot of work, but they are different types of work. A coach spends just as much time at the rink as a player does, though obviously they are physically working less. They are watching their skaters, seeing how prepared they are – physically and mentally, and making adjustments to practice on the fly and line ups in games based on what they can see. After practice a coach is e-mailing, texting, and on the phone talking to players and other staff about issues, concerns, and answering their questions. They are likely spending free time watching bout or practice footage, researching teams, planning line ups and strategy for upcoming games, and trying to remember every new skaters name all at the same time.

Coaching is emotionally tiring. There are times when the endlessness of it can wear on you. Showing up to practice with a plan and only half way through your new drill do you realize it doesn’t make any sense. Each time a game comes up and you announce the line ups someone might cry tears of joy, or tears of disappointment. You hear the same arguments from a skater as to why they should be on the travel team, or you might hear from players as to why a certain person shouldn’t be on their team. You are going to be involved in every piece of derby drama. You are going to be wrong, a lot. When you make a decision that can affect so many people you are going to misjudge someones feelings every time. You are going to call a stupid play, put in the wrong person, and blow the game at some point. And you are going to hear about it.

But something makes all the work worth it. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen. I remember a particular practice where we had several new skaters attempting to pass their minimum skills test, one requirement of which is to skate 25 laps in under five minutes. For any experienced skater it is no big deal, but to someone who may have only been skating for six or eight weeks it can be a daunting prospect. When the whistle blows, an observer should know within 20 seconds if someone is going to make it or not. This one skater was not going to make it.

But it didn’t really matter if she made it or not, she tried her hardest and finished her 25 laps, gasping, and collapsed in the center of the rink. It was hard to tell her that, despite all that hard work, it had taken her somewhere around five and a half minutes to do 25 laps. She took it in stride, nodded stoically, and vomited everywhere. This was the day after we had just lost our third game in a row for the season, and my first year as head coach. I imagine it was a combination of being exhausted and nervous, but the amount of vomit was truly heroic.

One of our long time members and nurses found some rubber gloves and paper towels, and we cleaned up the track while the skater went and cleaned herself up in the bathroom. Today did not seem like it was worth it to show up and keep coaching. Not only was our team losing all their games with me at the helm, but I had misjudged a skaters ability, allowed her to attempt to qualify, and now I was literally cleaning up the mess. The other skaters who attempted did not succeed in the endeavor either, and nobody qualified. People were left defeated, embarrassed, and frustrated.

A week or two later a new crop of skaters was attempting their minimum skills test, along with one of the girls who had not succeeded during her previous attempt. I wasn’t feeling particularly positive that day. None of the ones who had failed the attempt the previous time appeared to have made any significant progress, but they were insistent about trying again. I relented, and we began the qualifications. Despite my misgivings, something felt different today. Instead of just thinking she had a chance, this skater knew she was going to qualify today. It wasn’t a matter of if she completed the qualifications, but a matter of getting it over with.

The whistle blew and after the first lap I knew she had a chance. She completed each lap with confidence and speed. I stared at my stopwatch as I saw each lap tick by and began to fill with hope. The skater stumbled once or twice and neared exhaustion at the end, but finally crossed the finish line and fell to the ground completly spent. I looked down at the stop watch and saw a time reading just under five minutes. She looked at me, I gave her a nod and a smile, and she erupted into debilitating tears of joy. The bench of skaters watching exploded into cheers, the bench cleared, and everyone ran to hug her as she lay on the ground.

That day made all the previous days worth it.

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King James

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