This spring, I had the opportunity to mentor a first time softball coach through the Women’s Coaching Alliance. I met Sari, a high school senior, at the WCA’s Leadership Academy back in January. When she introduced herself at the Academy I was impressed with her confidence and poise. She said that she wanted to coach this season as a way to stay connected to softball, a sport she grew up playing, but without being a player herself. This resonated with me because staying connected to softball after my career was over was largely why I started coaching too. This is a common feeling for former athletes, and being a part of the WCA program this spring was quenching that thirst for connection with softball for the both of us.
Sari joined the WCA program to be an assistant JV coach at a local high school. Through the WCA, Sari was paid to coach, and also assigned mentor coaches to support her during the season. I was excited when I was asked to join her support team to help with both the sport-specific coaching and leadership side of her role as a JV assistant.
During the season, Sari and I met a few times over Zoom for personal coaching sessions, and I also attended some of her practices. On our first Zoom call, only one week into the season, Sari had already led a practice on her own. I was so impressed! She said she had received a text in the morning that the head coach had something come up and could not attend practice in the afternoon, so she was in charge. Instinctively, Sari started writing a practice plan on a Post-it note, with drills she had remembered from her playing days. I told her that this is exactly what I would have done as well, and we used it as an opportunity to talk about what makes a successful practice plan to use as a template in the future.
On our next call, Sari was in the middle of midterms. She had a big week ahead, with multiple exams in her AP classes, and she was also in charge of running practice for the team for the week because the head coach was out of town. To help her feel prepared, we planned the first three days of practices together and talked about time management when you are a leader. I could tell that she was still feeling a bit uneasy about juggling everything. She was giving all she had to her school commitments and her team.
“Sari, you have a plan for the week, and everything will work out. My biggest question for you is, what are you doing for yourself this week?” I asked her.
Her eyes got big on the computer screen and she took a deep breath.
“I haven’t really thought about it.” she said.
“That is ok! If there is one lesson I want you to learn from me this season is that, as a leader, you have to take care of yourself first. If you are not good mentally, then you can’t show up for others.”
We spent the rest of our session that day coming up with things that she was going to do for herself that week.
“My goal is to go to bed by 9pm every night so I am getting enough sleep,” said Sari.
“That is great. Sleep is so important. I love that goal.”
Putting yourself first is a hard lesson for anyone, especially womening in coaching because we wear many hats, and are pulled in many different directions. I knew that if Sari could start to learn to prioritize herself in her first coaching role, she could continue on this journey in the future.
The softball season is now over, and I am so proud of Sari’s growth as a coach. She jumped right into coaching and I watched her explain drills she had never done before herself with confidence and compassion. She gained her players’ respect by being true to herself and her own personality and this made her shine. Sari told me that she “wasn’t a yeller” and found a way to connect to her players by checking in with them individually and giving high fives. Knowing herself and her leadership style is a skill that she learned on the softball field and will apply to other leadership roles in the future. This is the WCA’s mission of “coach today, lead for life” in action.
Congratulations on a great season, Sari! You are a coach and a leader and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next. It is a pleasure to be your mentor.