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Why I love Coaching

As I stepped through the main entrance of Sherwood Forest Elementary School, my senses were instantly overwhelmed. The characteristic smell, I like to call “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and craft glue mixed with antibacterial soap”, instantly jogged my own memories from elementary school.  The bell alerting the end of classes had just rung, and hundreds of energetic students bustled through the halls, seeking out their rides home. As a busy nineteen-year-old, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into upon volunteering to coach kindergarten and first graders through the after-school program, Crazy Running.

The eight-week Crazy Running program aims to help Elementary school students build an appreciation for athletics by training them for a 5K fun-run benefitting an arbitrary community cause. For as long as I can remember, competition in track and field had been a driving force in defining me. After resigning from the track and field team at Wake Forest, I was eager to involve myself in something that would sustain my love for running. While coaching six year olds fell short of the division one collegiate track workout I was accustomed to, the kids certainly gave me a run for my money. My role as a head coach involved: retrieving the “junior runners” from the school’s cafeteria, teaching them the importance of stretching and warming up, leading them through a series of exercises, and sending them off to their parents come the end of the hour-long session. What sounded like a fairly simple task, I soon found to be as challenging as herding mosquitos. Laura, a co-coach of my team, joked that our time with the little ones was “the cheapest form of birth-control” due their innate energy and frequent temper-tantrums. Despite my initial intimidation of the sensory overload and surrounding chaos, by the end of the first practice I was feeding off the kid’s energy.

There is no milestone in life that teaches one how to prepare for the emotional rollercoaster accompanying the responsibility of nineteen six-year-olds. Volunteering as a Crazy Running coach provoked independent learning on my end by placing me in a role where I needed to be prepared to address the changing behaviors of a group of children. Being able to talk to children is a skill not all adults can comprehend. While some adults talk down to children, I have learned that the best way to gain a child’s respect is to colloquially connect with them as an equal. However, as many know, once a child feels comfortable talking, it may feel like they will never stop. By establishing myself as their equal, I learned the hard way that it was initially challenging for the kids to view me as an authority figure. By experimenting with the kid’s compliance, Crazy Running allowed me to successfully master the ability to be viewed as a respectable and fun leader that (sometimes) means business. Whether happy or sad, shy or outgoing, I am proud to say that I have made a significant dent in outwitting the typical six-year-old.

Coaching for Crazy Running, what originally served the purpose of physically removing myself from the library and filling my track void, proved to be a robust independent learning experience from which I gained the skill of creating connections with challenging personalities. If I were to change one aspect of my time in the Crazy Running community, I would’ve found a way to attend the final races I begrudgingly missed every season. I believe seeing a positive outcome of hard work is a valuable component of the learning experience. I thus could have benefitted from seeing the team utilize the skills I taught them. Instead, at the last practice of each season, I found myself ambushed by nineteen small bodies, embracing every reachable inch of my body, thanking me for the newfound racing skills they would hopefully channel in their big race. In these moments, I believe my excitement trumped all of theirs as I realized I could impact many others in a similar way as a physical therapist.