August 2014

Coaching – A Gift?

Circa 2004, I was given the opportunity to coach my oldest daughter’s soccer team. Okay, okay, I was frantically freaking out on the phone when the in-town soccer director was telling me if I did not coach, there would be no coach for my team and did I want that for my daughter? <Insert Jewish Mother Guilt Trip feelings RIGHTHERE>

Despite my many years of playing soccer (I played for five years up until 1987, when I was forced to pick ONE sport per season at Leominster High School and I chose to pursue my love of running instead), I felt unprepared to coach a team. Playing a sport and excelling at it is quite different than actually coaching a team of kids!  Yikes, would I remember the rules of soccer to teach a bunch of young ‘uns?  Would I have the patience to make it through a season?  Would the parents burn me at the stake for not making their wee ones soccer prodigies in a mere eight weeks?  <Where’s the toilet when you need it?>


Yes, I reluctantly said  yes! I quickly learned that teaching children a game is more like herding wild cats; finding creative ways to engage them and not simultaneously lose them.  <Whoa, six year old attention spans are really short-lived.> Whatever do you do with the child that finds more interest in the passing butterfly than the incoming soccer ball aimed precisely at her head?

As a mother, I realize I was given more *time* with my young children by coaching their sport. Instead of sticking my nose in a book along the sidelines or gossiping with the gaggle of other mothers, I was on the field engaging with not only my child, but countless other children who I became immensely fond of. I discovered early on that my soccer field was often times a safe place; a place away from troubles at home or problems at school. My grassy field was time out of a hectic day where the littles on my roster would laugh, cry, fall down and get back up again and again.

My field became a place where bullies would try to enforce their behavior, but instead, these children were given boundaries by me that there would be no tolerance on MY field and yet, reassurance that I would unconditionally be their coach regardless. The persistent buggers would be greeted with warnings and followed up with consequences; and the recipients of the taunting actions felt safe knowing this field belongs to them as well.

With each passing season, my confidence as a coach grew and my ability to gauge the level of appropriate skills and expectations expanded. What started as an in-town team of co-ed six year olds has carried on through the present day with coaching the girls’ high school summer teams. Imagine the opportunity to watch these girls grow, blossom, develop, struggle, persevere and continue on in the sport that they love!

A few years ago, my son’s team needed a coach and once again, I found myself heavily recruited to take on the task of managing a bunch of pre-teen boys. My bowels shuddered with fear: I knew I was able to coach girls but to be a positive influence on a bunch of tween boys? I doubted myself. Highly.

Coaching boys proved to be very much different than coaching girls. The game remains the same, but the players, boy, the players were nearly a separate species. For example, the girls will play on and on and on – even with injuries. I swear that girls will continue to play with a broken bone! About a third of the way into my first fall season with my boys and I had three players walk off during practice crying.


My first instinct was to tell these young gentlemen to suck it up and get back out on the field. Deep breath, ask my assistant to cover and I would soon find myself engaged in conversation with the crying young man about something outside of soccer that was bothering him. A little pep chat, a little mental health break on the sidelines and a freedom to jump back in when he was ready seemed to ease the water works. My field HAD to be a safe place for any number of emotions for any of these kids.

Boys…..they show their anger. Whoa. Time outs. Yes, they apply to tweens. Parents were notified when I was forced to reprimand and deliver consequences. Most times, parents were supportive and encouraged my on field discipline. Some occasions, however, they were not. Parents. Parents.

Parents. Yes, you parents add an entirely different dimension to the world of kids’ sports. Early on in my coaching, I was positive that my local town soccer organization was rife with *these* parents. Over the years, I witnessed that *these* parents are throughout all sports. As a coach, I was forced to re-evaluate my own perspective as a parent of children who play sports. Holy cow.

Parents have their own unique personality traits, much the same as some of those I saw (see!) on the field. In the latter portion of my tenure coaching, I found myself not only setting expectations for my team players but setting boundaries and expectations for my team parents!

helicopter parent

If I had the opportunity to sit you parents down and tell you one thing – everything you say has some type of impact on your child(ren). EVERYTHING. When you tell your child they are not good enough, I see it when they walk out on the field with their body language screaming their lack of confidence. When you tell your child they are the best thing since Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (when they are *clearly*not), I see it when they practice and when they play; as well as trying to give them additional tools to become a better player for this TEAM sport.

As a coach, my goal has been to make sure your child comes off a season a better player than when they first started that particular season. Being a better player not only includes a stronger skill set on the field to engage in more strategic and technical play; but also having an arsenal of tools to be a better human being.

As a parent, my goal has been to make sure my children have expectations and goals to rise up to. Each child has a different personality that requires a specific set of expectations for them. I refuse to coddle my children and give them false allusions of grandeur; but I also refuse to set them up for failure from the beginning.

When you tell your child that his/her team stinks and will never beat a particular team, you are stripping your child from the very get-go of the tools they need to march out and prepare themselves for their game. The likelihood of your child’s team may be slim-to-none of winning, but from a coach’s perspective trying to instill hope after you have stripped it away is a heart wrenching experience.


We must enable kids with the opportunities to *always* go out and give their best efforts regardless of the wagered outcome. Many of these experiences now will translate into your child’s life ahead – ultimately in how they handle situations in their careers, their marriages and more. Empower them NOW.

My tenure as coach has allowed me to see the impact of many of life’s challenges on your children:

  • I have seen the impact of divorce;
  • I have seen the impact of abuse;
  • I have seen the impact of helicopter parenting;
  • I have seen the impact of neglect; and
  • I have seen your children thrive.

Ten years later, with countless seasons of soccer under my belt – as a mother and as a coach, I reflect with a certainty that the in-town director gave me a gift way back then.  Yes, the director gave me a priceless opportunity to expand my own life adventures, but to have an impact on the lives of young children in their otherwise hectic worlds.

My role as coach has been far from perfect.   However, I do hope that a couple of kids will remember “Coach Rebecca” fondly and know I had a positive impact on their young lives. Your role as parent is also that of a life coach!  Remember your words and your actions may also have a positive impact on your children’s lives from the sidelines of their favorite sports. Let them hear these words from me AND from you: “I believe in you!”


apple cart

Few things knock me off my apple cart; really, I am able to teeter, to totter, and to maintain some sense of balance with most of life’s curve-balls aimed straight at my head. With each blow that makes contact with my emotional well-being, I may wobble for a while but very rarely is the instance in which I completely fall down. When I do fall down, I fall hard – usually face first into the concrete-hard truth of reality.

In “The Strongest Girl I Know”, I described the day my best childhood friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Never for one figment of a moment did I doubt that Karen would beat her form of cancer.  I *KNOW* she will come out stronger than before (yes, that IS possible, as I am living proof myself). Karen has recently finished her cancer treatment and will be place on a maintenance program for two more years. She is currently in what I have personally named the “transitional phase” of her cancer experience.

For those of you not in the cancer world itself, the “transitional phase” is what I deem the absolute hardest. Many cancer survivors will tell you that it is so hard to be done with treatment – everyone assumes you are okay and they move on, seemingly forgetting about you and what you just went through. You have an overwhelming range of emotions that often times makes you feel crazy for feeling such diverse and intense thoughts.  For me, personally, after my breast cancer battle, I did not struggle with this aspect as I was more than ready to get on with my life, my *new* normal, and put the cancer behind me.  Or so I thought.

New Normal? What the heck is that?

What doctors do not necessarily tell you is about survivor-ship and all the emotions that come with paving your way in a world that is not quite like your pre-cancer world; nor is your brand new beginnings as *glorious* as one would expect when given a “second chance” at life. As Karen begins her survivor-ship and careens through her transitional phase, I am once again reminded of the tumultuous hike ahead and awful emotions that surface therein.

About a year after my treatment wrapped up, I began feeling intense emotions:

  • Anger <man, was I pissed off!>
  • Sadness <how is the world this sad that it takes young people prematurely from their loved ones?> 
  • Fear <how would I identify and thrive in a “new” normal with such bodily limitations and at times, crippling fear of recurrence?>.

Five years later, I had personally arrived at a spot where I had resolved *some* of the emotional intensity and I had learned to cope with *some* of my limitations, but only as a mere matter of acceptance. My neat and tidy apple cart was first really tipped hard last October when Karen called me to tell me she now had cancer.  The past months I have spent picking up my apples and placing them back in their respective places.  Until Karen’s transitional phase, that is…… does one watch a best friend go through a similarly horrid experience with cancer?  How does one prep her friend for the toughest mental part of the so-called “journey” post-cancer?

I *love* that Karen now understands and relates to so many emotions that I personally struggled with. I feel more equipped to be there for her and listen to her as she gives examples of the emotional onslaught she currently faces. I offer examples and stories of how I writhed with similar thoughts or how I chose to handle ignorant comments. Yet, my heart is sad that Karen has to experience so many of these instances as she continues on her path to ultimate health.

Recently, when Karen called me flabbergasted that someone would say such a callous statement to her, I felt empathy for her pain. I also felt a weird sense of déjà vu as my memories circled back around to those ill-timed statements delivered to me just a few years back.

open mouth insert foot

Not only am I having a WTF moment for her, but I am chuckling at the WTF moments of my past. For example, “Boy, I should get cancer so that I can lose weight!” or “Whoa, I need me some chemo so I can get rid of my period!” are two of my *least* favorite lines, delivered by a loved one during my treatment. How do you explain to someone that you understand they honestly do not wish to get cancer?   <REALLY?!?!>   Or rather, the mere idea of getting rid of your period by going through MONTHS of poisoning via chemo is not only repulsive, but that is the most insensitive and ridiculous thing you could say to a cancer patient in the throes of their treatment!  (Karen and I have enough material to create a free-standing book of its own with more examples!  Stay tuned.)

In the cancer world, you honestly do not know if you will live or die – you just do not. Sure, the doctors give you a fairly optimistic prognosis, but ultimately, they do not know for certain and that is very scary. The treatments make you sick……not just sick, but SICK. No amount of vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, excessive fatigue, horrific bone pain or more will justify the need to ever lose weight or get rid of your period.

Telling a cancer patient they look good is equally *offensive* because what you are really saying is that we do not look *as sick* as you expected, or that you have nothing else to say so you will say that. I believe I said it to Karen once at a hospital visit when she was particularly sickly feeling – and I instantly kicked my own ass (albeit in my head).foot in mouth

In talking to another friend whose neighbor has recently been diagnosed with cancer, I find myself getting defensive and riled up about those who *think* they know best for the one with cancer. Empowerment has never been more critical to a newly diagnosed patient; let them make their treatment decisions on what is best for THEM. What is best for YOU may not be the best for THEM. The strong-armed advice that the newly diagnosed should consider holistic and all-natural treatment as opposed to the medical experts’ advice of engaging in a strong protocol, a proven regiment of drugs that gives us a 70, 80 or 90% survival rate is just plain hard to swallow.  We appreciate your *concern* but a simple, “What can I do for you?” are the simplest, yet, strongest words you may ever deliver to a cancer patient.  Five years it took me to come to this reality; and boy, will I advocate for those in my presence to ensure they are empowered in the decisions that affect their bodies.

Sensitive much? Yes, I am.

Karen and I faced our cancer diagnoses with similar ado: bring it bitch. We moved so quickly into our warrior phase, determined to beat the tarnation out of our respective cancers that we chose to deal with our emotional journeys as best as we can/could. Even as much as Karen has shared, I cannot even begin to fathom the thoughts she has and how she copes with the angst. I offer my ears and my words in hope that I bring her some sense of consolation; whether by helping her feel *normal* in these overwhelming emotions or by helping her to identify some ways of coping that work for her. Again, what may have worked for me may or may not work for Karen. Only she has the ability to ascertain what mechanisms are best for her.

As we move Karen into the next phase beyond the transitional phase (finding her new normal), I find myself on yet another unexpected ride of my own emotional cataclysm: 

  • Damn, I am pissed – why, oh why did she have to go through this?
  • WTF, I am angry – why did Jackie, Cara, Donna, and Tony, to name just a few, lose their battles so young?
  • URG, I am sad – each time I see Jackie’s daughter or pictures of Cara’s children my heart strings tighten and make me take a deep, cleansing breath to absolve my mind of the sorrow.
  • I am sadder yet to talk to more newly diagnosed, or to acknowledge the grim reality of those with chronic cancers that will…NOT….be….cured.
  • BOOM, I am motivated – to continue to advocate, to research, to raise money and make a F*cking difference in this world so that no one else has yet to battle a form of cancer.

apple cart over


I cycle back around to myself and place a gentle reminder that I need to be sure I take care of me. After all, I have three munchkins whose lives depend upon having their Momma in it. Another deep cleansing breath, some perspective re-alignment, and better choices for how I pursue my days ahead and the very moment I am within.

Deep breath. Brush myself off. Pick up my apple cart and we continue along the path of the Unexpected Ride. These are my moments; my moments to be present within and all I will do is watch for incoming curve balls. With each passing moment, these tangents of life are navigated and cushioned using the tools that have come from the blows before. Life is full of a multitude of lessons learned; and I do know that my apple cart will soon be back up again.

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