Monday, December 13, 2010

The Coaching Experience

So, I have never quite understood the whole coaching thing. Sure, I get people that coach for a living. I even get people who coach because they are really good at something or have a ton of knowledge and experience (like my Little Bro and baseball).

a coaching moment

I never saw myself as coach of anything.

So, how did I come to be coach of a First Lego League team?

First Lego League (FLL) is an organization I have been aware of and looking at for a couple of years, with interest. Then, over the last year, our homeschool coop kept trying to have a class with robots or Lego Mindstorms, and it never panned out. So, I began to look at this whole First Lego League thing again. Just for kicks, this past summer, I put out a few email feeders to gauge interest. I had over 15 responses in 24 hours!
Without looking into it too closely, I decided to go ahead and assemble a team. A friend, Kerry, volunteered to co-coach. Another friend, Kenneth, started out as a programming mentor, but has essentially become a third coach!
Boy, did we not know what we were getting into!
This thing has taken over a good chunk of our lives. It didn't start that way, but as the season progressed, it required more and more of our time.

how I felt after one meeting!

We started with 10 boys, who decided to call themselves Storm System. It dropped to 9 boys half-way through the season.
If you do not know what First Lego League is about, you can visit our team website at

one meeting moment captured

 The boys have been through a myriad of emotions over the past 4 months - mostly involving frustration! The robot game is...challenging, to say the least! In addition, the boys had to research a problem on this year's topic (biomedical engineering), and put together a 5 minute creative, but informative, presentation. There were many, many details they had to include.

Some practices felt like we were dragging through mud. WE could not do the work for them. WE could not give them answers or tell them how they should do something. All we, the coaches, could do was watch, suggest, nudge, prompt, and mostly - herd them!
There were many, many teamwork issues. Nine boys ages 8-almost 14? First, that is a lot of boys in one group. Secondly, they are all spread out developmentally. It caused a lot of friction.

There were times this season I wanted to cry, There were times, after meetings, I DID cry. I felt like a failure, not being able to get this team to work together.

Coach Kerry and I with last minute instructions

We went to competition this past Saturday. An amazing thing had been happening the last few meetings. The boys finally started to come together and work as a team. On Game Day, we saw them excited and nervous. We spent most of the day in a gym, with 27 other teams. We watched our boys laugh, play with one another, make a ton of new friends, and travel around to visit other teams and learn from them. We saw our team share their materials with a neighboring team, and sit and work together.

sharing ideas with a neighboring team

When it came time to do the research presentation, we went with them to the room. Only our team went in, to face a panel of 3 judges. Kerry and I sat outside and peeked and nervously paced and talked.
They came out, exhausted, but happy.

Peeking into the presentation room

The team did well in the robot game. They would never win, but they did better than we thought they would.
robot game set-up

Then, after lunch, we found out we had received a call-back. The judges were going to re-hear 8 out of 28 research projects again. Only this time the boys would face 7 judges.
Now they knew they were in the running, our team vacillated between nerves and excitement.
We accompanied them to yet another classroom. We waited again, for a much longer time. When they came out, they smiled, but looked exhausted. They all collapsed on a big seating area in the hallway and asked if we would stay there a few minutes.
This is one of the moments of this day I will remember the most.
In the quiet of those moments, the boys lay, dazed and wiped out, sharing a few quiet moments with their coaches. All that time we had spent together - all those hours of work, research, learning, laughing, yelling, griping, practicing, growing....we had all gone through it together. No one could understand us as well as we could understand each other. It was indescribably precious to me.

The moment passed, and we moved on. The boys faces more judges, more tests, more scoring.
facing a panel of teamwork judges

In the end, they won 2nd place in the research project, and a spot in the Championships on January 29. We thought our season was over, but we still have seven more weeks!

I am sure there will be more hair-pulling, more sighs, more wanting-to-knock-their-heads-together, more of what ArtGuy calls my "Come to Jesus" moments - when I lecture the heck out of them. But there will also be more laughter, more learning, more growing, and more fun. And we will do it all knowing that we stood together as a team and passed the test of togetherness.

And now I understand why people coach. It is a thrill and a high unlike anything I have ever experienced. Not the winning  - that was icing on the cake.
It was seeing a group who struggled for weeks finally come together. It was feeling like a family, even if just for a moment. It was the unexpected realization that I have been forming a unique relationship to each team member. I have taught most of them at one time or another. We know each other as teacher/student or friend's mom/son's friends. But this....this is a new relationship. Coach/team.

It was....amazing!

1 comment:

Patty said...

So happy for the team! Way to go. This should make you happy for a long time indeed!