Yesterday, my friend Laura Lynn Brown launched a new site: makesyoumom.com.
I have previously written about how I met Laura at Laity Lodge.
I was honored that she asked me if I would be willing to submit a piece for her new site, so I found an old piece I had written, dusted it off a little, and sent it to her. I was even more honored when she decided to include it in her launch.
“Momswimcoach” was written about my time coaching the Cooperstown Girls Varsity Swim Team.
Feeling nostalgic, I pulled out another piece written about that era and read through it.
Gosh, those were the days.
No, they weren’t, really. They were hard and stressful. I was in my forties, pregnant for some of it, working outside the home for the first time in decades, trying to homeschool, and still in the wake of the storm I mentioned yesterday.
But Bridget — Bridget was a gift to me.
She was a high school girl with a sunny smile, a giving soul, and Rocky Balboa’s work ethic.
When I started coaching, I had no experience coaching anything ever. Yes, I was a swimmer. Yes, I was a swim official. Yes, my children swam. Did that make me a coach? No. Yet there I was, on deck, being called “Coach” by eighteen girls, one of them named Bridget.
I threw myself into coaching to the best of my ability. I used workouts that the previous coach had left me, started watching videos on teaching the different strokes, researched swimming on the internet, and shamelessly asked other coaches how they did things.
The girls knew I was new. Some used it to get out of work. The most common technique was to negotiate during practice.
Negotiations would go something like this.
Swimmer: Coach, do we really have to do 10 100s of freestyle?
Me: Is that what I wrote on the board?
Swimmer: Yes, but I was thinking, maybe I could just do 5 50s of butterfly since that’s what I’ll be swimming in the meet.
Pushover me: Sure, I guess so.
Swimmer: Coach, do we really have to do a 200 kick?
Me: I was thinking we need to work on our kicking.
Swimmer: I have this blister on my foot from some new shoes and kicking hurts. Can I just do a 100 pull?
Pushover me: Sure, I guess so.
Eventually, I started to catch on. Only certain girls asked me and without exception they were negotiating for something easier. Also, as I planned out the practices, I became more and more keyed into what I wanted to work on and what I wanted the team to accomplish over the course of the season.
The more I grew as a coach, the more the negotiating irked me. I started to say no to all negotiations.
One day, when the chief negotiator began to propose her own sets, I said no, but she continued whining and wheedling. Something in me snapped. I took off my whistle, handed it to her, saying, “Apparently you know more about coaching than I do,” and walked off the deck.
Bridget came and found me in the locker room. “Mrs. Zaengle, I’m so sorry,” she said.
I looked at her – Bridget, who never gave me a problem, never questioned anything I asked her to do, was apologizing to me.
She followed up that verbal apology with a letter that she had every girl on the team sign. In the letter they thanked me for my time and my efforts; they apologized for not respecting me; they promised to work hard for me.
I think that was the day I realized what a gift Bridget was to me.
She worked so hard at every practice. Sometimes, in my quest for sets, I went to college sites and selected sets that were probably too hard for the girls. One of those times, I looked at Bridget’s flushed cheeks mid-set, realizing how hard the practice was.
“Let’s change the interval, Bridget, or shorten the set,” I said.
“No, Mrs. Zaengle,” was her reply. “I can do it.”
And she did.
She worked, and her work was a joy to me. Even when I messed up. Even when what I asked was unreasonable. Bridget was a gift.
Bridget’s attitude was infectious, too. I noticed more and more of the girls adopting her positive ways.
In the end, the team and I had the relationship described in Momswimcoach. That was a gift, too.
And Laura Brown? She’s also a gift. Encouraging me to keep trying.
We’re surrounded by people who are gifts. I’m quite sure of that. We just don’t always recognize them.