Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Out of my comfort zone-- way out!


Ever had to do something you were just not constituted for? Something so outside your frame of reference and experience it takes you around a bend?

When I signed up my first grade son for the local youth league soccer, I got a phone call from the head of the league saying basically: "Lady, if you don't coach, your kid don't play."

The DH was swamped at work and way over-committed. That left me.

Me
. A soccer coach. Somewhere the Twisted Sisters of Fate were doubled over in hysterical laughter. Now, I'm not totally unathletic. I mean, I once did 42 full pushups to win a bet. (Okay it was junior high and I had worked my way up to that number from a dismal four.) So, desperate to get my youngest out into the open air, I said yes and was told where to pick up the equipment.

Which turned out to be balls and a whistle. They threw in a roster with a clipboard for good measure and a much photocopied statement about providing no liability coverage. Not a word about how the game was played. . . just a bag of black and white balls and a whistle. Fortunately, I had a library card.

By the end of the week I had the basics memorized and figured I could handle a gang of sweaty little boys clumped around a ball, kicking for all they were worth. How hard could it be? Men did it all the time. Soon I was studying World Cup videos for pointers, practicing my jock walk, and wearing my whistle to bed to-- you know-- get the feel of it. Couldn't have anyone saying Zeb's mom coached like a girl. Just before the first practice, I got a call that one of the dads had volunteered to be my assistant. Hallelujah! I was saved!

My savior, Joey Sr., turned out to be a six-foot six airline mechanic with biceps the size of Volkswagens. . . who had never played a sport in his life. ("Unless you call ridin' Harleys a sport.") He stood smiling toothily down at me at the first practice, earnestly calling me "Coach," and I realized I had to make a go of this coaching gig or my kid-- who was already handicapped by the name I'd laid on him at birth-- would be tormented all through grade school.

At the first practice I also discovered my team consisted entirely of small Scandahoovian boys with blond hair and names that started with the letter J. Jimmy, Jared, Jason, Josh, Jeremy, James, Joey Jr., Jack. . . (absolute fact--I still have the roster). . . and finally a good old fashioned Gary and my long-suffering son Zeb. It was Minnesota in spades. I nearly went out of my mind trying to remember who was whom as they slalomed balls through the line of orange highway cones. They all looked alike from behind! I was forever having to run the roster in order to get a response. "Jared, Jeremy, Joey, Jason, James-- whoever the heck you are with the yellow stripes on your tube socks--"

Halfway through the first game, I lost my voice from yelling. Fortunately Joey Sr. had a voice like a foghorn. I'd whisper an order, he'd yell it out onto the field. The city manager's office got calls from people who thought the airport glide path had been changed. The next week I was back to doing my own yelling.

As the season progressed, we lost more than we won, but the boys were having fun. . . except for the half dozen bloody noses, three primary tooth losses, and too many skinned knees and elbow abrasions to count. I developed laryngitis after every game, and began to worry about the strange looks I got as I called in plays from the sidelines. Was I yelling too much at their kids? How else was I supposed to get directions onto the field? When I yelled I felt bitchy and when I didn't I felt like a wuss. I began to obsess about it. . . to yell or not to yell. I was pretty sure no "guy" coaches had a problem with yelling. After a consult with the only real "jock" in the family (the hubby), I went back to using Joey Sr. as a PA system.

I confess, I kinda got to liking the coach swagger and the security of the clipboard and--ooooh, that whistle. There were subtle changes at first: using a toothpick 24/7, calling every male in the vicinity "hoss," scratching whenever and wherever I felt like it, and taking up as much room as possible on a chair, sofa, or church pew. But even I realized things had gone too far when I found myself giving a neighbor guy a chummy pat on the behind. My husband stared at me like I'd lost my mind and when we got inside he forcibly removed my whistle and refused to let me have it back until game time.

The season ended just in time to save my sanity and self-concept. I was this close [ ] to a full scale gender melt down. It was as far outside my comfort zone as I ever want to go. I do have to say, however, that it gave me some insight into the male psyche and the effect of the siren call of sports on the average American male. Hey, I'm a writer; everything's grist for the mill!

What about you? Ever done anything too "manly" for comfort? (Or "womanly," in the case of our male readers!) Come on-- what's outside YOUR comfort zone?

16 comments:

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- I've never coached boys sports because I'd just be lynched. I have no patience. However, because I've been self-employed as a consultant in the business world for most of my life...I had to toughen up and be "manly" when it came to standing toe to toe with some of my clients. I found that if I acted like a polite, well-brought up young woman (especially in the early years) they treated me like a girl.

So, out came the strong hand-shake, the stare-down, the willingness to let silence fill the room, etc.

And I found that I routinely got rid of clients who wanted to play those games. (g)

Helen Brenna said...

OMG, Betina! I was soccer coach for both of my kids' soccer teams and never got comfortable with it. What you described was so close to my own experience, I busted out laughing several times. LOL!

Although, I'm extremely jealous. The never gave me a whistle. Shoulda went out and bought one for myself.

The last year my daughter played, we had a dismal record, losing left and right. The girls were so disappointed, it was difficult keeping their spirits up. The last game was icky, muddy, rainy. I challenged them to win the game and I'd roll in the mud. They did it! And couldn't believe I help up my part of the bargain.

Fun end to the season.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Betina, what a great story! I have to confess that none of my 3 ever really got into competative sports. They tred, each in some way. My older boy was athletic and clever about avoiding the tackle pile in football--always made it look like he was trying to get there but just didn't quite make it. Daughter played BB in 5th grade--mostly ran up and down the court alongside the action. Younger son didn't get into a sport until late teens, when a martial arts program caught his fancy. He became quite good, but that's mostly competing with yourself. I played the spectator role in all of this. Apparently I look funny when I run. Older son asked me early on not to run when his friends were around.

I admire you and Helen for taking on the coaching mantle.

Oh, and the fact that you named your son Zeb (I've always loved your sons' names!) was a bit of foreshadowing. You were destined to write Romance.

Betina Krahn said...

Deb, I've tasted just a small amount of "the biz" women get in business and it's not fun. Yep-- politeness is seen as girlie weakness. So you have to get decisive and firm. Interesting that romance publishing seems to operate on a different wave length-- until you get to the bigs, where you have to learn to play hard ball and negotiate tough for everything you want.

Helen, I'm so glad to hear I wasn't alone in the coaching biz! And yes, a whistle makes all the difference, especially when dealing with boys. Something about that piercing, high-pitched whine makes them sit up and take notice. Hmmm. They should issue one with every marriage certificate!

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy,I know how the less-than-athletic-minded kid plays-- my kids have both had episodes of casualness that made me cringe or shake my head. Neither of my guys were runners, wrestlers, or b-ball players-- though they tried all three. My thought was that it was good for them to be part of a team.

But as laughable as my own coaching experience was, I developed a real respect for people-- men and women-- who have that knack for inspiring kids and helping to focus them toward a common goal.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Stepping outside my comfort zone:
I am as uncoordinated as they come, but I wanted to ride from the time I was about 7 and got to try out my grandmother's neighbor's horse.

No chance to really learn to ride until I went to college and took riding for P.E. It took me a full semester to figure out where my posting muscles were. The instructor was one tough lady, sent most of the class running from the stables in tears. All the better for me. I needed one-on-one instruction. I finally managed to post the trot and win the blue ribbon in the beginners' class at the end of 2nd semester. (I think there were 3 of us left by then, so we all got ribbons. But mine was BLUE.) Instructor Sydney Brigham told me that she believed I would own my own horse someday. She noted that I had come a long way on "sheer stubborn will." She added, "You're the least coordinated, most determined student ever to make it through a full year with me."

I rarely make such a distinctive impression.

byrdloves2read said...

Hmmm, outside my comfort zone. I was never a tomboy or athletically inclined but when I was in my 30's I decided to take up kung fu. Probably the worst experience (for the guys in my class) was when I was supposed to hold the punching bag as they practiced kicks and punches. I'd never been on the receiving end of any kind of violence and it shook me so badly that I cried the whole time. I wasn't hurt at all but feeling all that emotional energy directed toward me really shook me up. The instructor asked if I wanted to stop, but I said no and hung in there. Oh yes, and sparring was challenging too. LOL Now (25 years later) I'm content doing tai chi.

The thing is, I was in the best shape of my life when I was taking kung fu and felt more empowered than I ever had before. I loved it.

Linda

Betina Krahn said...

Linda, join the sisterhood of former king fu/karate students! I, too, had a martial arts phase. It was great, until we started sparring. I couldn't bring myself to hit somebody who hadn't hurt me first. And yep, it was great conditioning! I felt strong and empowered too! Some of the lessons, about being aware of your surroundings and going with the movement of a blow and walking confident have stuck with me to this day.

Christie Ridgway said...

I so suck at sports and my dh and his family are really good at them. My kids are about the middle. So coaching duties went to the husband, one season of soccer for each boy, and then =years= of basketball for both.

But my older son's freshman year in high school they made =me= do the scorebook. I could hardly keep track of the ball on the court and now I had to know which kid (on both teams) scored, etc. Scary. Luckily the other team would have a dad keeping a mirror set and it was amazing how much they could keep track of as I was still trying to figure out where the heck to put the time-out on the complicated form. I suppose it came from playing the sport, which I never had.

However, I never sweated over my kid's performance because I was so dang busy trying to do my job. I had my little son help me too (he was better than me at 11 years old) and now he keeps the scorebook for volleyball.

That experience was way out of my comfort zone and I hope I never have to go that distance again!

Christie Ridgway said...

Betina: And I'm so laughing at how your experience led you to taking up as much room as possible on chair, sofa, or church pew. That is =such= a guy thing! Notice at the grocery store, the one's who leave their cart in the middle of the aisle so no one can get by is invariably a man.

I love 'em, but...

Candace said...

Boxing. Yes, me, the girly-girl with the long painted nails took boxing. When I turned 50. At a real, live boxing gym. Sweaty guys with no necks, multiple tattos, and intimidating stares. I avoided eye contact and pretened they weren't there.

I learned to wrap my hands and put on my own gloves. Learned to jab, cross, uppercut, and hook. Jumped rope (badly!). Hit the body bag (that sucker is heavy!) Did the speed bag, too (also badly). Learned how to throw my shoulder into a punch with my weight behind it. Learned how to bob and weave while keeping my weight on my toes.

After ten minutes of warm up (mostly jump rope), there'd be 15-20 minutes on either the speed bag or the body bag, and then I'd "spar" with a trainer who danced around me with his hands up and big hand pads for me to punch into. For two minutes, he would call out which punch I was supposed to throw and I'd do my damnedest to do it. Then I'd get to rest (walk & hop) for one minute, then two more minutes of throwing punches. This went on for 20 minutes or until my arms turned to jelly and I couldn't lift them anymore. Early on, that came at about the 5 minute mark. But after four weeks, I could make it the full 20 minutes.
It was exhausting and exhilerating, and the hardest workout I've ever done. I loved it. I always come away from a session feeling like a could do anything.

Then we moved to Fort Wayne and they don't have a boxing gym. But the minute one opens, I'm so there!

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Candace-- boxing! Yep, I never would have figured you for such a "guy" sport! But it sounds cool and kind of invigorating.

And Christie-- I was so glad I didn't have to keep records or scores in those games. It's all I can do to keep track of a bowling game. Although, most of the lanes now do the scorekeeping for you. . . electronically. I tried once to keep some baseball scores and made such a mess, somebody else took over before the first game was through!

MsHellion said...

OMG, this was funny. I got about halfway through the blog and went: Betina must have written this.... (Not that the other ladies here aren't funny; you are...but I swear Betina makes me scream in laughter.)

Manly pursuits. I chopped down a christmas tree once...but I was 11, so I don't think I qualified for "woman" either. I feel a bit macho when I do the weight machines at the gym though. Strength training is important for women, yet we usually focus more on cardio to burn fat. *shrugs* But when I'm doing the leg machines--and I can do them at a much higher weight than the gorilla guy with the big arms--I go, "Ha, ha, gorilla man."

That might be more competitive than manly, though. *LOL*

I can also change my own tire, but that's just handy to know.

Betina Krahn said...

Aw, MsHellion-- I'm blushing.

Yeah-- at the gym. Weight lifting can get you into a "manly" or "jock" frame of mind really quickly. Also. . . using tools. Like lug wrenches and drills and saws. Oooooh and screwdrivers! I do love me a good screwdriver.

:) Betina

Anonymous said...

i've never coached boys as God did not bless me with any boys. All I have is two girls who are now adults.
But I teach boys ages 5 to 8 in Royal Rangers with my husband who has the 3rd to 5th graders and sometimes I feel way out of my league with them.
I had to make a walking stick with them for one of the merit badges and this was new - all I had to rely on was my husband and my knowledge of crafts.
Jane Squires - jrs362@hotmail.com
I have to do this as only way I seem to be able to add is anonymous.

Betina Krahn said...

Jane, welcome!

Nothing like a gaggle of little boys to bring you to the edge of what you think you know about the human species! As an old Cub Scout pack leader, I had many of those days!