Tongue Tied

The Spence girls

I get an email from Coni (athletic director at The Spence School in Manhattan) to fill out the ballot for the end of the year sports awards banquet. I write back telling her hi! I miss you! I really do. Coni made me feel like I belonged at Spence, even though more often than not I felt completely out of my element. Last year was my first (and unfortunately last) year as the head coach. We struggled with finding an assistant early on and eventually, never found one. So not only was it my first year as head coach, but I was alone. That’s not completely true. Coni helped a lot; whenever she could be there she was there, but she was spread really thin with all her responsibilities.

I got as used to it as I could. I couldn’t really split up into two groups at practice, as I would have liked to do, so we all worked together all the time. It wasn’t so bad with only 14 players. Games were the worst because I also didn’t have a manager. I hated asking one of my players, because I only had three subs to begin with (on a good day), and I wanted them on the sideline with their teammates. I was in a league with mostly older coaches who have been doing this for too long. I felt them look at me like I was a kid and didn’t know what I was doing. I hated it. The only way to prove them wrong, I felt, was to win.

That didn’t really happen. I realize now that it didn’t matter. I hate to say it’s not about winning (because it is), but in this case, it really was about the girls’ improvement from the first day of preseason to the last game in the playoffs. And it was about changing them from girls’ just coming out to play a sport to girls who loved the game of field hockey.

For the two years before that, I was the assistant and Sarah Jones was the head coach. We were great together. I missed her last year. After practices and games, I didn’t have Sarah there to talk and vent to about everything. Coni was there sometimes, but not always. Mike always got an earful at night. Every day I needed to talk about it. So I found another outlet: facebook.

When something happened that I just couldn’t believe; when the girls did something that made me unable to speak, I posted it on fb. It became my Fun Field Hockey Moment of the Day. When I started posting more often, it just became FFHMD. Here are some examples:

“FFHMD: After the game informed my girls that we’ll be doing an MVP for each game and then announced to the team who it was. She responded, ‘What’s that?’

“FFHMD: Player asked me which side of the stick to jab with, and flipped her stick over wondering if she should jab the ball with the top of her stick.

“FFHMD: Had a different girl rush the pads on offensive corners and set a play to get her the ball. She asked, ‘What do I do when I get the ball?’ I said, ‘Score’.

“FFHMD: Amazement and astonishment from my girls to the full effect with ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’… you would have thought i showed them a reverse chip to the upper corner of the cage. Alas, i showed them how to Indian dribble.

“FFHMD: Whistle blows for halftime. Player asks, ‘Is that the end of the first half or the first quarter?’

“FFHMD: Getting really annoyed at the girls running around with their sticks in the air instead of on the ground, so I stop and yell, “EVERYONE. PUT. YOUR. STICKS. DOWN.” …and one girl drops her stick and puts her hands in the air like I just held up the joint.

“FFHMD: Why is it that when I ask a player why she was late for practice, or why she missed practice, or why she did something else wrong, the first two words out of her mouth are usually, ‘My mom…’ ?”

So we’re on the bus to one of our last games of the season. One of my players, Rachel (the best word to describe her is firecracker), always sits at the front of the bus near me. She recently had an idea for the team to get shirts and showed me the protoype. “This is my Stetshirt.” That is awesome. They don’t end up getting them made, but it’s the thought that counts.

Rachel says something like, “Can’t believe I’m on twitter. Only because of you, Michael. Going for a run in central park.” My head turns so fast. What? Where did you get that from? “It’s on your twitter account.” Huh? Oh, God, I made that like five years ago and never go on it. What are you doing? Searching for me online? “Yup. You have a write-up at Monmouth University, and you have an IMDB account.” Jesus. She then hesitates for a second – only a second – because Rachel never holds back. “Yea, and you know your facebook account isn’t private either. I’ve seen all your ‘fun field hockey moments’, making fun of us.”

Spence field hockey shirts

Oh. My. God. Oh no. You’ve been reading my statuses all season? “Yup.” Everyone? “No, but there’s a group of us who have read all of them.” Now I’m panicking. My face is getting hot. I go on my phone, trying to change my account settings, but I have no idea how to do it from my phone (obviously, since I already thought they were set to private). Now word is quickly spreading around the bus. If any of the girls didn’t read them – they are now. Shit.

OK, they’re all talking about it. There’s no point in trying to hide it, so I own it. Girls, yes, I’ve written things on facebook. If I hurt your feelings, I’m sorry. Then I get a very unexpected reaction. Sharon – who has been reading them all along – stands up. “I was the one who asked you about jabbing the ball with the wrong side of the stick. It got a lot of comments and likes.” She says this all with a smile. Another girl, with a hint of jealousy in her voice, pipes up. “Stets, did you write anything about me?” Umm, wait, do you want me to have written about you? “Yes!” They’re all asking what else I wrote and who I wrote about, so to clear the air, I go through my page and read them all aloud. I’m mostly nervous for the last one, which was directed to Hanna, a freshman, because I made a comment about her Mom. I can hear the phone calls and complaints now. I preface this one, and tell Hanna that I know it’s not her fault about her Mom. I learned earlier (but after I posted the comment) that the parents at this school really do have complete control over what their daughters do, even and especially it seems, when it’s not favorable for the team. She waves off my apology. “Oh, I don’t care.” Her freshman teammate, Isabel, agrees. “Yea, our mom’s ARE crazy.” Everyone agrees. More girls are chiming in. “Stets, why didn’t you write anything about me?” I don’t know, because you didn’t do anything stupid.

This is amazing. A surprising turn of events. I look around the bus. God, I love these girls. They’re just good-natured, sweet girls. We get off the bus and start warming up for our game. Everyone is excited. Ringer (another player) runs up to me. “Stets. I feel like we really bonded today.” Me too, Ringer. Now go kick some butt. We go on to win our first game, and I couldn’t be prouder. (It was a middle school team, but that’s beside the point.)


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