Lessons learned from a first-time coach

Girls on the Run

Pre-race pep talk with New Hope's Girls on the Run

Add it to my list of life accomplishments: I am a coach.

Since January, I’ve coached the Girls on the Run program at New Hope Academy Charter School in York city. Over 15 weeks, I met with a group of tween girls twice a week to talk about healthy choices, self-esteem, social skills, and yes—running.

Depending on the week, anywhere from 3-14 girls would show up for educational lessons, healthy snacks and to run. The program concluded with the girls running their first-ever 5k race, which was the Lady White Rose 5k on April 21.

Six of my girls from New Hope entered the race. All six finished the race. One of the many lessons these girls learned from the Girls on the Run program: how to set goals, and how to work to accomplish them.

I, too, learned quite a bit from this experience. Anyone who’s ever hung out with one or more girls between the ages of 10-14 can tell you that it’s not an easy job. Throw eight of them in the mix, and trying to keep things together can be like herding cats.

I entered the world of coaching full of optimism and high expectations. Maybe I couldn’t be Pat Summitt, but my girls would respect my all-encompassing authority and would admire my no-nonsense attitude with awe and inspiration. I would be tough, but fair. Eventually, they would realize the indelible mark I had left on their young hearts and minds, and they would forever remember Coach Andrea as being the one who made a difference in their lives. Years later, they would invite me to their weddings and name their first-borns in my honor.

Well, this didn’t quite happen. But somehow, things still worked out fine. When we met for a final time Sunday to celebrate the end of the program with a pool party at the YWCA, my girls ran over to greet me with hugs—not glares. I genuinely think they were glad to see me. I guess I did have a positive impact on them, after all.

Here are three things I learned as a first-time coach:

  • Rule No. 1. Children, just like everything else, are chaotic.
    So you will become a pro at improvising. I don’t have kids of my own, so this was a hard lesson that I had to learn quickly. Many of my friends who are in the mommy gang would agree that the best way to deal with kids is to expect the unexpected, and somehow, also be prepared. As a coach, a lot of things can be unpredictable—the weather, injuries, attitudes, and anything else. Maybe that great new game or workout you had planned turns out to be a total flop. It’s not the end of the world—move on, and try something else.
  • Rule No. 2. You are not in total control.
    But you don’t have to be. For control freaks, such as myself, this can be another tough reality-check. Even though I had activities and workouts planned out the wazoo, Rule No. 1 exists, so sometimes the plan just didn’t work. Sometimes the back-up plan wouldn’t work, either. Kids are crazy and unpredictable. For coaches, this can be scary when you know you’re responsible for the safety of ten young women, none of whom ever seem to stay the same place at the same time. Being vigilant is key—having an assistant coach or a parent around to help keep an eye on your group can help ensure that everyone stays safe, even when things get a little rowdy. I also was surprised by how well my girls were able to keep an eye on each other. As long as no one was behaving dangerously or putting herself in harm’s way, I learned to compromise my expectations a little bit. So what if they weren’t always listening quietly when someone was talking or walking together in a group? (Herding cats, remember?) The key here is to choose your battles—as long as no one gets hurt, just go with the flow. Compromising a little bit of order to ensure that everyone was a safe, fun and positive experience can be a worthwhile sacrifice.
  • Rule No. 3. Everything you do makes a difference.
    Even if you don’t see it/realize it at first. Over 15 weeks, I was able to get to know my group pretty well. Some girls were shy, some were outgoing, some were athletic, some got nervous speaking in front of a group and some had short tempers. (Like I said, I don’t have kids—so I was surprised to learn that kids are actually a lot grown-ups, but smaller.) As pre-teens and tweens, the girls I coached were already starting to figure themselves out—so I was a little nervous about if or how they would benefit from a self-esteem/running program. As time went on, though, I was able to see little ways in which they’d remember a lesson that I previously thought went right over their heads. For example, two weeks after a nutrition lesson, I was surprised to overhear the girls discussing the sugar content of fruit cups. Seeing the girls reflect on our activities, even in small ways, really made me glad that I was in fact making even a small difference in their lives.

I learned that one of the most important ways a coach can make a difference in a kid’s life is through their attitude. Because Girls on the Run teaches girls to have a positive attitude and outlook, I tried to model that behavior for my group at all times—in spite of Rules 1 and 2. Even if I had my doubts about something, I never let the girls catch on. I tried to be someone who would always encourage them. After finally completing the 5k race with my group, I asked one of my girls how she felt.

“When you said we were going to run three miles, I thought you were crazy. 

But then I did it.

Knowing that I was able to help a young girl achieve something that she didn’t think was possible was as much of an accomplishment for me as it was for my group. So, along with world traveler, homeowner, graduate, writer and runner, I am now equally proud to call myself a coach.

Have you coached before? Read about Smart blogger Lyzz Jones’ coaching experience here.

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2 Responses

  1. Noreen Lazarus says:

    what a great inspiring article!

  2. makenzie montgomery says:

    what a great article im one of the girls.

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