Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rare Blissful Moment

I've talked about it before, but when I have high expectations and they aren't met--I'm at my lowest. This comes in the form of relationships ending, plans being canceled and I generally go from being excited about life one moment to questioning my entire existence the next.

Before I get too morbid, conversely, I'm at my highest point when I have poor (or no) expectations, and the planned or unplanned event knocks my socks off.

Today was one of those days.

For the last month I've been quietly dreading today. One of the first matches we had was against Bothell. I wrote a recap about the match, but even though both teams had an amazing time that day, their coach warned me about Inglemore High School. How that team was full of snotty kids who made bad line calls and had terrible tempers. On the bus ride home, I checked our schedule and found today's date as the day of our match. I was glad we were playing them on our turf.

As the tennis season progressed, we had our share of rain outs, but we got the majority of our tennis matches in. I would usually spend at least some time talking with the other JV coaches during our matches. We would talk about our successes and failures, but whenever we talked about which teams we had played thus far, opposing coaches would always single out Inglemore and warn me about them. I must have heard from three or four different coaches in the league that they had enjoyed all of their matches--win or lose--except for their match with Inglemore. The Inglemore coach doesn't have any control over her team and their players are just terrible sports.

I let my team know at practice yesterday what to expect from the Inglemore team. We joked about fighting fire with fire, and calling out line judges to the court and returning their bad calls with bad calls of our own. But if you know me at all, I'd never let my team do that. I had been hoping for rain, but the forecast just looked cloudy for today. Damn.

3:20pm rolls around, and I have about 16 guys who have been at the courts for nearly an hour. The match is supposed to start at 3:30pm, and Inglemore is nowhere in sight. Could it be? Might there be a forfeit today? Please God, let them not show up! But of course, the next second a yellow school bus rumbles up the steep Laurelhurst hill, carrying the Inglemore squad. Their school colors must be Black and Gold, because moments later a swarm of yellow and black buzzes its way from the bus to the courts. Since they are late, I tell my guys to get off the courts and let their team use all of the courts to warm up (it is customary to give them two courts, while we warm up on the other two).

I had been told that their coach was Asian, but a Caucasian woman introduced herself as the coach. After chatting it up for a bit, then later hearing some of the remarks she made during the match, I'm sure that this is the lady the other coaches had been talking about--but at the beginning of the match I thought the crazy Asian lady may have gotten the ax.

Their team didn't seem overly cocky or bad-mannered. Sure, they were cocky and had bad manners, but not more so than any other east-side high school tennis teams. We got the games underway and I watched all four games like a hawk.

Hmm... no bad line calls during the first few games. No mumbling. No cursing. No throwing racquets. No questioning of my players' calls. And another interesting thing was that all of the matches were close. The first match finished at 6-8, with Inglemore taking the number four ranked singles match. A minute later, Nick walks off the court with an 8-6 victory for us at #1 singles. A few moments later Thomas storms off saying, "Coach. I lost six-eight I'm going home now." OK Thomas, whatever you say, buddy!

Lucas finished up his match 9-7 at #3 singles. This match was a fun one, because Lucas is pretty much the bully on our team. At practice, he whacks balls over the fence and refuses to get them, he hits other kids with balls and is just a menace in general. But today, against a presumably hot-headed team, I decided to let him play singles for the first time this year. Up until now, I was a bit gun-shy of what might happen with him alone out on the court.

He turned out to be playing a mirror-image of himself. Lucas is easily the most powerful person on our team. Fastest first serve by a good 20mph, and the hardest ground strokes when he chooses to wail on the ball. He was up against another brute, and during the warm-up, they both just crushed the ball. Of course, once the match started, they both dinked the ball, not wanting to mess up. I did the exact same thing when I played. On a rare point, one of them would hit a very good shot, even by varsity standards.

I decided to finally go over to their court during a change-over. I think the match was at 5-4, and originally I was just going to go give Lucas a little pep-talk, but as I watched them play, I decided that talking to both of them just felt like the right thing to do. Here is what I said:

"OK you two, this is a very even match-up. Both of you are capable of hitting amazing shots, as you've already proven. This could be a varsity-level match. There is only one thing I want to see change: when you have the ball in your wheel-house, I want you two to go for it. If you get to the net and have a chance to end the point, do it! If you aren't in the best position, by all means, just get the ball back and play defensively, but both of you will get plenty more put-away opportunities. You two can make shots that no one else out here can, show us what you got."

The doubles matches finished in the same fashion as the singles. I think we ended up winning the overall match 7-5, but only because their team was deeper than ours (which I think is a first), so we had our #1 and #2 doubles team play a second match against their lowest ranked doubles teams at the very end of the match. Those two matches ended up being 6-0, 6-0, which I felt a bit bad about, but I couldn't really do much about that, seeing how our lowest ranked doubles teams were still playing when courts opened up.

Towards the end of the match, while the last few matches were finishing up, I invited players from both teams to play King of the Court. They looked like they were having a fun time, and the one team that held King-ship the longest was actually a mix with one guy from Roosevelt and one from Inglemore, so that was pretty cool. I got a request to switch the game to Graveyard, and did so after explaining the rules to the Inglemore team. They were excited to play a game they hadn't heard of, and even gave my team a few players because they had so many more than we did. I didn't play, but from what I watched, I saw lots of smiles and heard lots of laughing, so I can only assume that they were having a good time.

Being the last home match, I had quite a few parents show up that I hadn't met before. They all took the time to personally thank me for coaching this year, and I think every one of them mentioned how much fun their son was having with tennis this year. I think maybe four or five parents came up to me at various points in the day's match and thanked me. I hadn't expected that at all, and it was an amazing feeling.

While I was driving home from the match, all of the smiles, and all of the thanks I received finally caught up with me. This isn't really work. I know teaching won't be all peaches and cream, but I also know this won't be the last time I'll feel this way if I continue to coach and begin teaching. I don't think I'd ever get this experience working a 9-5 desk job.



Blogger Ginny said...

What a great afternoon!
And a great way to end the season.
Glad it turned out so well.

7:44 AM  

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