Tough Decisions Made Easy
Have you ever loved something so much, but also dreaded it?
This was my experience coaching field hockey the past eight years.
But it’s supposed to be hard. Tom Hanks reminds me every time I watch A League Of Their Own.
Look, in any worthwhile endeavor there will always be aspects you don’t love. I love writing but editing sucks. I love making lip sync videos but struggle with choreography. I love baking cookies but hate that it takes six hours to make one batch.
The real question is, “Do the highs significantly outweigh the lows?”
Ultimately, there was a strong enough pull that kept me coming back each season. I did love it. The fact that it was so difficult meant I was being pushed and challenged and growing as an individual. I had to stick with it.
This past year - my eighth year coaching - I stopped trying to be perfect and embraced not having all the answers. I was vulnerable with my players. In return, I had no attitudes on my team. No disrespect. No anxiety as I drove to practice each day. It was my favorite season coaching. Ever.
And yet, it was still a struggle.
Coaching conflicted with other parts of my life. I left my husband at home with our 1-year-old son from 3-6pm, the worst time of day to be a parent. Once a week I was gone from 11am-11pm for an away game. There was very little parenting or partnering on those days. All the while I was participating in an online writing course as a student and mentor. So when I wasn’t at field hockey I was on Zoom calls or writing.
For three months my husband and I engaged in frantic, stressed out exchanges. I didn’t sleep well. I ate Clif Bars and trail mix. I felt like I was trying to do too many things and therefore was unable to do anything well. And I was pregnant with our second child.
When field hockey season ended my husband and I had a long conversation. Even with a full-time nanny there was no way we could do this again next year with a 2-year-old and 6-month-old. So Sam asked me:
“What do you want to do?”
I thought about his question for weeks. There was no clear-cut answer. In a perfect world I would get to do all three: coach, mentor, and be a present parent and partner.
I was indecisive. I didn’t know the answer. So I wrote about it.
Writing is more honest than thinking. In my head I trick myself into thinking something is good for me or worth the time and investment. But when I write, I write to myself and I can’t lie to her. She has a strong bullshit detector.
Next I imagined what life would look like without coaching. Seems like a simple and obvious exercise, but I had never let myself visualize it because I didn’t consider it an option.
I saw myself at home with my husband and son during dinners and bedtime. I saw myself sipping pumpkin beer on our back porch during evening sunsets. I saw the three of us traveling to UNC to watch college field hockey games. I saw my calendar from August to October completely open. It was thrilling. I’m even giddy now, writing it.
But I still didn’t want to let go of coaching because it was part of my identity. Letting go felt like losing a piece of myself.
Field hockey was the sport I loved most during my formative years. I came alive when I stepped on the field. And then after college almost every place I moved to - New York, Charlotte, Wilmington - there was a coaching position handed to me, like coaching was exactly what I was meant to be doing. It made sense to coach. And I had a responsibility to give back and teach young players everything I could about field hockey and what it meant to be a team player.
But to move on and let go of something doesn’t take away from the past. I will always consider myself an athlete even though I currently get winded from walking up the stairs too fast with a pile of clean laundry. And I will always love field hockey, even if instead of spending Fall afternoons on the field I spend it at the beach with my family. (Wow, that really does sound glorious.)
And then there was my ego. I liked telling people I was a field hockey coach. It was a badass title. There was a sense of false pride and confidence each time I shared it. That’s because cool titles that feed your ego and not your soul never feel truly authentic.
So if I let myself forget about responsibility and identity, what did I really want to do?
When I asked myself this question enough times the answer finally appeared in a whisper. As if it was a dirty secret I didn’t want to admit. But it was there and I let myself hear it.
I didn’t want to coach. I didn’t want to be a role model. I didn’t want to impart any wisdom to young athletes.
I wanted to play field hockey.
I was itching to run around the field with a stick in my hand and feel like a kid again. But playing felt near impossible. There were no leagues where I lived. There were barely any players. Coaching was the closest I could get to playing. And that’s why I did it for so long.
So if I couldn’t play field hockey, what did I want to do?
I wanted to write. I wanted to be involved in Write of Passage. And I wanted to spend time with my family. Those three things invoked the most joy and fulfillment. Coaching gave me pieces of satisfaction but never the whole package.
Wherever I choose to focus my attention, I want to be all in on things I’m excited and passionate about. Not things I think I should do or feel like I have a responsibility to do. Hell yes or hell no.
It’s not always easy to see clearly what gives you energy vs. what sucks your energy because sometimes they do both. Coaching did both. But I can choose to pursue things that only make me come alive. That’s not to say there won’t be hurdles and frustrations along the way, but there’s a difference between feeling challenged and feeling drained.
Immediately after I made the decision not to coach anymore I felt unsure, guilty, nervous about telling the athletic director and team. But after a good night’s sleep I woke up relieved, sure, and excited about how I’d spend my time in the future.
For eight years I struggled with whether or not I wanted to coach field hockey. When I finally let myself imagine a life without it, the answer became clear. I don’t.
Thank you to my friend Florian Maganza for his invaluable feedback on this essay.