This morning, Susan interrupted my Zoom to give me an update on the day. “…and Eli’s getting together with a friend this afternoon.” Grrr. I wanted us to go bike riding in the woods later on. It said so right on the meeting agenda: 1:30 – go bike riding in your local forest. Over the next hour, I formulated a plan. I could ride the gravel roads out behind the reservoir alone. It’s something I always wanted to do.
My day started with the PA interscholastic Cycle League Leader Summit. Fancy name, I simply call it mountain bike coach training—pep talks, communication strategies, motivational speakers. I need it all. Badly! I really don’t have the right personality to be a coach. My brain works slowly. I can’t think on my feet. I say the wrong thing… or nothing at all. I ride up next to a kid at practice. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much, Coach Jeff.” This is where the other coaches slip easily into witty banter, skillfully riding a skinny bridge between ‘responsible adult’ and ‘cool older friend.’ Those coaches circle the practice field, warming up their muscles at the start of practice, surrounded by a cluster of kids, telling stories and jokes, leaving one and all with a warm feeling of belonging.
Instead, I struggle with rudimentary give and take:
Hey, what’s up?
Not much, Coach Jeff.
OK, see you later.
Trainings like today’s offer scripts for me to follow. That’s not the purpose, but it’s what I take away; ideas on how I might start conversations with the kids, because really, that’s my most basic coaching need. The point of these trainings is to reinforce positive communication techniques with kids. “First and foremost, use the student-athlete’s name when you talk with them. It makes them feel important.” Great. At the end of last season, I was still struggling with names. Actually, that’s not true, I know all the names, my problem is attaching those names to kids. Those kids all look the same to me.
And on being positive: I’m a glass half empty guy, or completely empty, or smashed on the tile floor. Positive feedback isn’t where my mind goes first. I recognized this thirty years ago. In my career, I took larger and larger leadership positions, an ever growing staff. Then I realized I hated it. It drained me to manage others. Being upbeat and acting friendly requires nonstop effort on my part. It won’t just come out naturally.
Checking out at the grocery: “Thanks for shopping at Kennie’s, have a great evening.
Sophie in the parking lot: “No dad, when someone says ‘have a great evening,’ you need to respond with ‘You too!’”
We’ve had this conversation forty times. I just can’t make it happen.
I’m doing this intentionally, dropping myself into a difficult and unnatural hobby. My friendships all tanked when I quit drinking. Actually, they were already taking on water before I quit, the drinking thing just sent them to the bottom of the sea. Five years later, I need to put myself in situations where I interact with people. It’s easy to grow complacent in a mostly solitary life, and this seems like the best place to start. I like biking. God knows we need the coaches. Plus, I’ve grown much closer to Eli.
We’re often on the same wavelength, Eli and I. Sometime during my meeting, Eli’s get together with his friend moved to tomorrow. “Hey dad, what do you think of doing a gravel ride at the reservoir this afternoon?”
Well, that worked out well.
Photo taken during a break from barreling down the mountain we just finished climbing.