I spent the last three years coaching a group of high school cheerleaders. It was something I had wanted to do for years, and it was as rewarding as it was challenging.
As contradictory as it may seem for a cheerleading coach, I’m an introvert. I find large groups of loud people to be draining of my energy, so you can imagine how I felt after spending an evening every day with a group of teenage girls. And in coaching, you fight some of the same battles as you do in parenting; how to get someone to follow an instruction they may not want to, working your way through conflict amongst teammates, and handling those circumstances when their personalities might, at times, clash with yours.
I was good at my job; I knew that. But one critique that came up over and over – from everyone from my boss, to the cheerleaders themselves, to the girls’ parents – was that I needed to yell more. Not even so much that I needed to be stricter, or clearer about my expectations; I needed to yell more.
Yelling doesn’t come naturally to me. Speaking UP, in any form, is hard for me, as an introvert. But I expected the girls on the team to speak to each other in a certain way and treat each other with a certain respect, so I would only act towards them as I wanted them to act towards each other. As their coach, I wanted to lead by example.
My quieter tone and non confrontational manner took some getting used to, and some of the parents and kids never really did. Most of the girls coming to my team expected a more intense relationship with their coach and atmosphere at practice – those of you familiar with the show Dance Moms, start replaying some scenes in your head here. That approach wasn’t instinctual to me. Instead, I coached from a place that felt right, took the criticism, and kept at it. Over time, I saw that I was getting through in my approach, at least with some of the team, and set my sights on the upcoming season to keep chugging away, in my way.
I won’t be returning to my coaching position this fall after all. I’ve started school again and couldn’t make the schedule work in the evenings to free me up to hold practice at night. It has been in resigning that I doubted myself and the job I did the most.
After hearing from all sides that I needed to yell more, I started to wonder if that was actually true. What if, in order to be truly successful at my job, I needed to step further outside my comfort zone and, well, do some more yelling? I spent a lot of time doubting my coaching philosophy and approach when mulling this over.
Then, it took this experience several weeks ago in parenting for the lightbulb to go off. I had chosen in parenting the same approach I had in my job; mindful, minimal yelling, attempting to influence behaviors long-term rather than be reactionary in the moment.
Sometimes, being so different, the whole gig felt like an uphill battle, and I wasn’t sure if my no-yell approach was ever the right fit for the coach of a sports team. But I realized that, as in parenting, there’s no one way to be successful at that role. Just because I was interacting with the girls differently than they expected didn’t mean I was doing it wrong. I was doing good things with those young women. I have to trust that I’m doing right by my daughter as well, parenting – yes, coaching – her through life.