For 13 years, the first of August signaled a return for me.
I would transition from my summer job in camping, and within 2 days (or less), I was back in coaches' meetings or going to volleyball try-outs at the high school or working registration. At the end of last year, with my school facing such significant changes and challenges, I decided to stop coaching.
There were so many reasons to stop. I need to be available to my classroom students for tutoring before and after school. My department needed more of my attention. All of them needed better and more thoughtful lesson planning from me. I was married to my job for 13 years, often spending more time at school (60-70 hour weeks) than I spent at home. I might be more focused. It would be healthier. I could be happier.
For a few weeks now, friends and colleagues have asked me if I'm glad about my decision. I had to tell them that I honestly didn't know yet. All last week, I'd wake up at 6:00 AM, feeling like I was missing something, wondering where I was supposed to be next. But I didn't have to be anywhere, and it was weird. Admittedly, it was nice to miss some of those meetings. It was very nice not to have to paint the gym or build schedules. But it didn't really feel... real.
Today, I went to schedule card pick-up for our 8th graders. I was so excited to see my athletes and students from last year. Even some of our high school kids came back to visit and help. They caught me up on all the latest gossip; I talked them up to the 8th grade teacher sitting with me at the welcome table. My assistant coach from last year stopped by to ask how it felt to be on "the other side" of registration. We talked quietly for a few minutes about how I was feeling -- that I wouldn't miss the paperwork or the late nights or the laundry but I would miss my kids desperately.
At that, one of them said, "What do you mean -- you'll miss us?"
That's when I had to tell them that I wouldn't be their coach this year. I'd told a few of their mothers at a school board meeting, but I think it wasn't truly true until they heard it from me. There was some concern, some protest, but because they're good girls and they understand my intentions, they didn't kick up much of a fuss. Plus, they know I've left them in good hands. They made me promise to still come to their games which, of course, I will.
"I'll be there," I said. "You know I'll be there. It's just that, this time, I'll be yelling FOR you instead of AT you. That'll be nice, right?"
And without missing a beat, another of them said, "Oh, yeah. That's definitely better."
It hurt my feelings for a quick second, but in knowing her as well as I do, I knew that she didn't mean that I was a hateful and terrible coach whose only pleasure in life came from suicide lines and screaming. She just meant that she's glad I wasn't leaving them for good; she's happy that I'd still be there, backing them up and cheering them on.
I'm unsure what this year will bring. I'm unsure how I will adjust to my new role as just being "Ms. Naz" and not necessarily "Coach Naz". I'm unsure if I'll be healthier or happier or a better teacher. But I'm sure that my choice was for the right reasons, and that has to count for something. That has to be what I remind myself on that first game day when I find myself off the sideline and in the bleachers.
So, today, I think I have the first part of my answer to everyone's question. I won't miss the meetings or the pre-dawn workouts or cut days. But I'll miss watching their improvements day-to-day. I'll miss them cracking me up when all I can see are the mistakes and absurdities of teenage lives. I'll miss their locker room singing and outrageously huge hair bows. I'll miss sitting on the bench with them; I'll miss our huddles. I'll miss teaching them something new. I won't miss the long hours and the hard work, but I will miss our time together and the rewards it brings.
More than anything, though, I'll just miss them.
I love you, my Lady Mustangs. Make me proud.