The Cut: Part Two

First Day of Tryouts

“It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Finally, the first day of the season starts. The day begins like any other day – alarm goes off while it’s still dark outside, hot shower fills the bathroom with steam, smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen fills the air, blindly dress for work, and out the door in a flash. This time you grab the practice bag that has been waiting patiently by the door for this day.

As your day goes on and the afternoon approaches, a sour feeling builds in your stomach. You know it’s just anticipation for the upcoming first practice of the season, so you chew on some TUMS and move on with your afternoon. No matter how hard you try though, your thoughts seem to circle back to the upcoming practice. Will everyone that was at the pre-season meeting be there? Will there be kids there today that were not at the pre-season meeting? Will the first few practices run smoothly? After we get through all of the paperwork and discussion about concussions and discipline, what long term and short term goals will the team set? What kind of coach will I end up being for them?

These questions, and more, continue to roll through your mind, making the day go by in a blur. When the end of the workday arrive, you change into practice clothes and head off to practice while chewing on a granola bar. Of course you arrive a few minutes before the kids get there, giving you time to set out your piles of paperwork and collect your thoughts.

In what seems like hours, the first of the athletes burst through the gym doors and yells, “COACH! Did you miss me?” Before you even realize what your body is doing, you feel yourself grinning and standing up straighter. More athletes burst through the gym doors and start congregating around you. “What are those papers for?” and “Is this stuff for us?” and “What are we doing today?” are just some of the questions that you are getting right off the bat. Anxiety mixed with excitement radiate off of them and fill the air around you. You tell them, “Let’s just wait another minute or two, and then we can start.”

In the following minutes, as one or two additional new kids arrive, you learn a lot about what has been happening during the off-season. Several boyfriends have come and gone; a few athletes have gotten their driver’s license; one athlete reveals that her parents have separated; nearly none of them have done any part of the off-season workouts and drills that you had created for them to sharpen their skills. All valuable information for later reference, just by letting the group chat for a few minutes.

Ok. It’s time to begin. Many of the student athletes in front of you already know who you are, but there are a few new faces. So, you introduce yourself and tell them a little about your background. You ask the girls to introduce themselves as well – Just their name, grade level, and how many years they have been playing on the team. Next, comes the boring part, but it’s necessary – the paperwork. Grabbing the first pile of papers, you have them pass around the code of conduct and rules to be followed. After a quick explanation and reminder that parents need to sign it, you move onto the next pile. This one reviews the signs and symptoms of concussions, what parents should be aware of, and the importance of reporting any indications of a concussion. Again, parents need to sign it.

As you work through the several piles of papers, including the practice and game schedule so far, the fundraising forms, emergency phone chain flyer, and updated medical alert cards, you notice that many of them are not paying attention. It’s normal, but still frustrating. Just like them, you would rather be practicing, but you know that these papers are important and if everyone is not on the same page, like knowing how to use the phone chain or what to do if someone is injured, then mishaps later in the season can occur. And as previous experience has proven, parents and school administrators do not appreciate mishaps.

After all of the papers have been handed out, you remind them all that they have to have their updated medical information and physicals done by the Nurse before they can practice. There are a few kids that did not do this yet. So you tell them that they cannot participate today, but they can stay and watch. If they miss another day of tryouts, then you are not sure if they will be able to make the team. You get nods and “uh huh” in response, but you are not optimistic that they will get this simple task done before tomorrow.

Finally, piles are distributed, safety discussions are done, and the athletes have put the paperwork away in their bags! You glance at the clock. Almost an hour has gone by; just over an hour left to your practice for the day. You plan to make the best of the time left and demonstrate what is expected at the beginning of each practice. So, you organize your crew into neat rows; veterans and seniors are up front with under classmen and newbies in the back. 4 rows of 4 athletes; those sitting out today can start a new row in the back tomorrow. In the beginning of the season, the front row will face the team in order to help demonstrate proper stretching and warm up technique. Stretching for flexibility and strength training will take about 45 minutes. Even your stretching routine is organized; start with neck and upper body, go through core and back, and end with lower body, right down to ankles. Then, you plan to have the team do just one or two basic drills today, master them, and then cool down together. That’s the plan anyway.

However, stretching and conditioning takes about 55 minutes because many of the kids do not stretch properly, at least until you helped each one with technique and body positioning. It’s not a bother to make sure that each kid learns the proper way to stretch, how long to stretch, and technique in conditioning and strength training. Learning these skills properly in the first days of the season will make stretching and conditioning more effective not only for the rest of the season, but in future seasons and activities that they participate in. So a little extra time spent now benefits all of them, in this season and in the long term.

So, we get through it all. Slowly, but methodically. Stretching consisted of neck rolling, shoulders, biceps, triceps, wrist rolls, back bends and back twists, cobra stretch for abs, quads, hamstrings, inner thigh, calves and shins, ending with writing their names with their toes to stretch out their ankles. Conditioning included, and will get more difficult as the first few weeks go by, a series of wind sprints, lunges, squats, crunches, and push ups. Jumping technique you will save for tomorrow.

After giving them all a five minute water break, you get right into the first and only skill-based drill that you will be doing today. You break down each move by each position so that your players can absorb their first skill as a team and master it correctly. It is too difficult to unteach a player’s bad technique halfway through the season, so you are patient and methodical in this. In order for the new members to actually see how it’s done, you use a few of the veteran athletes to demonstrate the drill, slowly. Of course they are not perfect either. Now you weave in the newer members, and within minutes, everyone is going through the drill.

You explain to the athletes that you expect them to master this drill today before they leave. You define mastering it as going through it three times without error. There are plenty of errors, even by the most veteran players, but progress comes quick. The advice and tips you give while they run the drill seems to be absorbed almost as soon as you offer it. And then something happens that most coaches love to see… you see the veteran players help the newer players, which they respond to. Laughing off mistakes, grunts in frustration, and words of encouragement, like “don’t worry about it, you’ll get it next time” and “I wasn’t good at this drill either in the beginning” and “don’t give up; we’re here with you” make you see that the group is taking it’s first steps in coming together as a team.

It doesn’t take them long to master this drill as a team. So, you instruct them on the cool down and let the veterans take the lead. After the cool down, while you putting away extra papers, you see the team putting away equipment without your having to tell them to do so. You can’t help but smile to yourself. It’s a good sign that the veterans are setting a good example for the new members and acting a team leaders. You think about where their ability was when they first walked through the gym doors and how they accomplished so much in a brief period of time. Many of these girls probably never talked to other girls on the team in school before, but now they are working together as a team. Who knows, maybe some of them will become great friends, or even rivals. That’s the magic of the first practice of the season. You can’t help but feel optimistic, but experience tells you that you just never know how it’s going to turn out.

A quick reminder to get the paperwork signed and returned to you either tomorrow or the day after, and any physicals needed to be finished tomorrow. And then they are gone.

“Bye Coach”.

“Thanks Coach”.

“Hasta Pasta” from one of your goofy seniors and “Peace Out” from another.

You take a deep breathe, and just like that the first practice is over.

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