Teenagers. What words first come to your mind when you think of teenagers? Changing. Finding themselves.Trying to fit in. Growing. Becoming who they are meant to be.
Before arriving in Ireland, we were told that we would be doing several hours a week of coaching. All summer long, I would day dream about my time in Ireland. What sights I would see, what it would be like to play basketball again, and what kids I would be coaching. I instantly thought of walking into a group of young girls, eager to meet the new female Victory Scholars. (Letterkenny has never had female scholars) I thought about ways that I could mentor these young girls and use my experiences to help shape their lives. So for months, I had this image in my head- coaching young girls. My expectations were about to be completely shattered.
When Faith and I arrived at our first coaching session, we were told we would be working with 16-19 year old boys. Woah! That was a whole different image than what I had in my head. I must admit at first, I was immediately intimated, thinking that the boys would have absolutely no interest in having two female coaches. Looking at them, it seemed as if their first reaction was confusion, as I think they thought they would be getting Chaz (the male scholar here) as their coach. So Faith and I walked over hesitantly and gathered the group in, introduced ourselves, and dove right in to some drills. The boys were not taking us seriously and goofing off. With immediate frustration, I told the boys to get on the line and run a double suicide. (Harsh coach I am, huh?) When we got back into the drills, the boys were still not responding well. After another suicide, we decided to bring them in. Faith and I explained that we are here to help and get them better. I told them that we are going to be with them for the entire year, so we really wanted to make this the experience the best possible for them. The boys were still not responding and it seemed like all they were thinking was, “but you’re a girl!” And I know that all I was thinking was, “teenagers, man!”
I then proceeded to tell the boys that yes, I am girl. However, I played college basketball and I think that I have a lot to offer them. I told them that they have so much potential and we could be a really good team, and even though I am a girl and they are boys-we still play the same game of basketball. There are plenty of male basketball coaches who coach females and vis versa. I then finished my little huddle with telling the boys that we would be pushing them really hard this year. After this, we got right back into the drills and to my surprise, the rest of practice went really well. After the session, the boys all came up to Faith and I and thanked us. I left the practice feeling like we really had gotten through to the boys and it was going to be a great year ahead.
Since that day, every single practice has been hard, intense, fun, and oh so rewarding. I know that when I arrive at practice, the boys are excited to see me and respect me. That’s the most important part: earning respect from these kids. Every session the guys want to work hard, they ask questions, and are getting better week after week. Perhaps the most rewarding moment to date was when we had a late night Friday practice from 9-10pm. The boys finally perfected a drill that they had been struggling with for the past two weeks. You could just tell the excitement on their faces. Even though practice was supposed to end at 10, they wanted to keep playing, so we ended up playing till 10:30pm. This is when it hit me: I love this! No better way to spend a Friday night. I couldn’t believe that 16-19 year old boys wanted to keep going hard in the gym so late at night instead of partying or hanging out with their friends.
Needless to say, these boys have completely shattered my stereotypes of teenage boys and I hope I shattered their stereotypes of female coaches. I will no longer refer to them as “teenagers” but more importantly young men who are becoming truly amazing people on and off the court. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to work with this group and I can’t wait to continue working with them all year. And isn’t that the beauty of this game of basketball? No matter your gender, race, ability, or background, it’s the same game we play. The same game we love. The same game that stole our hearts and changed our lives.