I have been an assistant coach for my daughters’ soccer teams each of the past three years. For each fall and spring session of outdoor AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) soccer, I have had the good fortune to be paired with awesome head coaches. Each one is the embodiment of those dads who would do anything for their daughters and commit to being responsible for the schedule, the practices, the lineups, the phone calls, the games, and everything associated with developing little soccer players. As assistant coach, I don’t have to really commit – I’m kind of there as much as I can be. I give it my all when I am there, but it’s always as my schedule allows, and somewhere deep down I limit my expectations with thoughts like, “I’m only the assistant” and if I miss a practice, it’s okay because the head coach is the one who should be there. For the assistant coach, commitment can be optional … or so I thought.
This spring session, I found myself needing to reconsider all of my notions of this commitment. My head coach had another commitment grow larger than he expected, preventing him from holding regular practices and making anything more than our first two games. It was clearly time for me to revisit my level of commitment and engage. I found myself taking the initiative to rearrange my schedule (which wasn’t as hard as I thought) and holding weekly practices, working on deficiencies I identified in our most recent game; taking time each weekend to think through my lineup for the game; and then coaching the game each week – complete with my pre-game talking points. It was incredibly rewarding for me, as I watched my third- and fourth-graders grow into little soccer players. AYSO is all about having fun, but as I have always felt, it’s a little more fun when you win. And to my surprise, we won all five games that I coached on my own.
Surprising ourselves is one of the most satisfying things in life, I think – when we stretch ourselves beyond our own expectations and commit to something beyond ourselves. For me, I got beyond thinking about my own schedule and started thinking about the experience of these girls. The results were incredibly positive and rewarding on all accounts.
As I reflected on the extent to which I had to recalibrate my expectations for my level of commitment to our AYSO team, I couldn’t help but think about how often we limit ourselves by concentrating on what we’ve always done, the way we’ve always done it. When we simply extrapolate the past into a linear projection of the future, we fail to take into account changing environments and changing needs. With the College implementing a retirement incentive this past spring, a number of talented colleagues left us here to carry on the important work of MVCC. Their commitment to the College is admirable (having all served an average of 30 years or more) and their talents will be greatly missed. The departure of such a significant cohort of talented individuals has changed the environment in which we need to approach the coming academic year. Much in the way the departure of my AYSO head coach changed things for me, the recent retirements have changed the leadership landscape at the College.
Now is the time to engage. So many to whom we would have turned to in the past for guidance and insight won’t be here when we kick off the new academic year in August. It will be incumbent on all of us to believe in ourselves and in each other to get the work done together. It will require us to go beyond thinking about our own sphere of daily influence and reconsider our level of commitment and engagement. Initiative and creativity will be as important as showing up every day and doing a good day’s work. Just as we had an entire cohort of colleagues exit, we’ll have a new cohort of colleagues that will look to each of us to help them be successful and find ways to help them contribute to the best of their ability. Who knows, if we do our best and stretch a bit, we might even surprise ourselves.
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