That Old Feeling

For some people, childhood doesn’t end up being the best time of their lives, like you so often hear. I wasn’t a happy kid, though I played one convincingly enough.

I also played softball, but when I was on the diamond, things were different.

With my uniform on and cleats laced up, I wasn’t pretending anymore. I could lose myself in the comradery, in the smell of freshly cut grass and the sun on my face, and for a while forget about the negative narrative that was on perpetual loop inside my head.

I felt safe on the field.

Softball became one of the few things to which I actually looked forward. Practices, tournaments, and out-of-town trips with the rep team became my bread and butter, and after each game I felt full. I still have some old medals and a few small trophies in a box somewhere; all that remains of that time, but for the memories.

As an adult, I tried to recreate the feeling by playing on some recreational teams, but it wasn’t the same. Something about the alcohol, the mixed teams, and the cajoling atmosphere made me feel too conspicuous to lend myself fully to the experience.

Despite my desire to be there, it just didn’t feel right. Inevitably, I’d lose heart and stop showing up. And so I relegated those old experiences to the past, where they stayed–right up until I attended my daughter’s first softball game.

The idea began as a bud that blossomed as the season wore on. Witnessing the girls, whom I grew to know by name, develop their skills and become more confident on the field, filled me with nostalgia. Toward the end of the season, it was all I could do to remain in my seat. The notion was in full bloom. I wanted to coach.

Sitting high in the stands, I dared to whisper my idea to my ex-husband. We sat together during games, where he’d intermittently catch up on work emails, as I tried hard to resist calling out the upcoming plays to our daughter’s team.

I figured he’d laugh, when instead he looked up from his phone, thought for a moment and said, “You’d make an excellent coach.”

I held back my surprise. The calibre of coaching was intimidating, and I had my doubts. This wasn’t the town of several thousand people where I had grown up, after all; it was a city of more than a million. I scanned the scene before me. The coaches were almost unanimously male, and appeared to have been coaching for some time.

Still, the notion persisted. That night after the game, I drafted an email and sent it to the league coordinator before I lost my nerve. My interest was met with enthusiasm, and I was told that the organization would follow up with me in the spring.

As the snow disappeared, I began to question whether I could handle any further obligations. I decided that they’d forgotten all about me, until a woman approached me at a pre-season practice. I swallowed hard when I recognized her from the stands. She was the wife of my daughter’s coach.

With a warm smile, she asked if I still wanted to coach. When I hesitated, she recalled how I had umpired a couple of last season’s games when the official hadn’t shown up; how I cheered the girls on, rain or shine. Right, I thought. I had done that.

They wanted me on the roster, she explained, and the assistant coach role would be perfect for me. As a plus, I’d be alongside her husband, who was the head coach of my daughter’s team.

I sat and reflected on a recent conversation I’d had with a friend, in which I learned that the softball league back home ceased to exist. They didn’t have enough community support, and these organizations can only succeed with the help of volunteers. I felt a pang of regret for the girls who could have benefitted from the experience, like I did, but wouldn’t get the chance.

Looking out upon the bright young faces, I glimpsed bits and pieces of myself. I felt a well of gratitude rise up inside me for the sport, and for the volunteers who made it possible. It occurred to me that the opportunity to contribute to a safe environment for these girls to feel alive and free and forget about their troubles, was something to embrace.

I said yes.

After completing a coaching certification course the other night, I was presented with a small laminated card, on which my name appeared in bold capital letters. I turned the card over and over in my hand. Practically weightless, and perhaps trivial to some, I realized how much it meant to me.

I was a coach, and I had that special feeling once again.

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