“Teaching is coaching, coaching is teaching.”
The grade school I wrote about in a past article describing my earliest days of honing my lacrosse skills, was the same school that asked me to come back after college, and teach art to grades first thru eighth. I never taught or conducted a classroom, prior to the job offer. But when a need to “substitute” in for a lacrosse coach who was going on paternity leave opened up, I answered the call.
I was the ONLY individual in the school with actual and recent playing experience, back then. And with that playing experience, I had more confidence on the lacrosse field, than in the classroom, to be honest. The program was made up of 7th and 8th graders and was entering their third year of existence in the Spring of 2002. Due to the limited lacrosse programs in NYC, back then, a season was just 5 games. The combined record after the first two years was 2 wins, and 8 loses. I had to plan for an unknown season ahead.
Since the 7th and 8th graders were already focusing on high school life, I wanted to strip some bad habits and beliefs from the past two seasons. Playing time wasn’t going to be equal for all, rather determined on positive attitude and individual skills increasing each week. That there was no such thing as ‘job security’. An ‘inner-team competition’ was established, so that starters knew that their playing time was always up for grabs. That all players knew each had a specific role, even the ones who didn’t see a lot of playing time. And just like a lesson plan in the classroom, a coaching plan, with strict and set game plays had to be enforced and executed against our opponents. Yes, it was unconventional to the athletic staff, but I was against finishing with conventional results.
The team started the programs 3rd season with 21 players, and finished the season with 18. The 5 game season ended with 5 wins, and 0 loses – UNDEFEATED! 5 games may seem like nothing these days, but they were 5 games where the program experienced the positives of putting in the hard work, while challenging the status quo.
I keep a framed picture of the team right after we won our final game on NYC’s Randalls Island, back in 2002. It sits on my office desk to this day. In that picture, a handful of players dropped lacrosse and went to play other sports. Half were lost to graduation. Some continued to play lacrosse in high school. Only one played it in college at the Division 3 level. But all succeeded in their many and own ways outside of lacrosse. And as their coach, I wanted to teach them just that.
I only coached for one season. After that season, the prior coach returned after paternity leave and I was back in the classroom. I stopped teaching in 2005. As a former teacher, I met a variety of talented students, not just athletes, who in return taught me, as well. Coaching lacrosse got my interest back to playing competitively on the post-collegiate level, which I do to this day. But there is no question, looking back, coaching that lacrosse team was my proudest accomplishment of my teaching experience.
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