September 17, 2015

EDGE Project at SUU

Hey followers!

As most of you know, I attend Southern Utah University in Cedar City as a Family Life and Human Development major with a minor in Psychology and an emphasis in Family Services. In order to complete graduation requirements, SUU requires a really cool program called the Education Designed to Give Experience (EDGE) project. For this project, we are allowed to choose any type of activity or service project that is approved by EDGE professors. For my EDGE project, I decided to choose to coach volleyball. First and foremost, I was looking for a job so I reached out to several schools in the Iron County area to see if there were any job openings for coaching positions. After no luck, I decided to look for jobs elsewhere. After I had found another job doing retail, I got a call from the Athletic Director at Parowan High School who had seen my resume and wanted me to coach their 7th and 8th grade volleyball team on a volunteer basis. I figured this would be the perfect EDGE project opportunity! I was excited and nervous all at the same time, but I knew it would be a perfect fit for me. Here's why:

I played volleyball competitively from early middle school through high school (and still play, but mostly for fun). I loved the game so much not only because I loved my teammates and we were very successful, but I loved the coaches I had over the years and the way they shaped my life. Many of them were volunteers (especially my middle school coaches) and were there purely because they loved the game of volleyball and wanted to teach us to love it the same. I seriously lucked out with the best coaches, who genuinely cared about not only teaching us how to get better on the volleyball court, but who cared about the individual human beings we were. I felt a love and connection from all of my coaches on and off the court. However, I never really appreciated them until I got out of high school and realized, "Wow, they really impacted my life". 

When I took the coaching opportunity at Parowan High School (their middle schools and high schools are combined), I didn't go in thinking, "Oh I'm going to change these girls' lives". However, I went in thinking, "I am excited to coach these girls the fundamentals of the game that I love so much". Most of all, I was hoping that they would learn that being a competitive athlete can teach many more lessons than just running and jumping. I learned leadership skills, communication skills, friendship skills, and hard work skills from my time playing competitive sports. To put it simple, I was hoping to coach the young aspiring athletes the same things I learned. Oh, and to have a little bit of fun while we were at it.

I was excited, more than anything, for the adventure ahead and for the opportunity that the EDGE project provided me to serve young girls, a school, and a community just like my previous coaches had served me. However, I learned quickly that coaching is not as easy as it looks, and it's not all sunshine and roses. 

I kept journal records from each week of practices and games. Here lies proof of the fact that it was not exceptional fun 24/7, but I learned so much from this experience:

Week one:
The first day I realized how little experience these girls had with volleyball.  I was able to teach them the basics of passing and serving.  We will see how quickly they catch on, but I'm sure we will be practicing passing and serving much more than the other skills. 
The rest of the week we practiced passing and serving, as well as rotations, because we had a game the following week. During week one, I began to realize that this EDGE project would be more difficult than I thought it would due to never coaching volleyball and being inexperienced with adolescent girls (at least since I was one). I am anxious and excited to begin this service project. 

Week two:
This week at volleyball practice was a little more frustrating than the first week.  One of the girls is very uncoachable, disrespectful, and quite frankly kind of a brat (teenagers, ugh).  She texts during practices and games; she constantly asks when practice will be over and leaves games and practices early. It's kind of like these girls have never been on any team with any sort of rules.  This particular girl TELLS us coaches what position she wants to play.  She rolls her eyes when I try to coach her and it's getting really frustrating.  
Our first game was pretty bad, if I’m being honest.  I didn’t expect us to win or anything like that, though.  I am really excited for the growth, progress, and potential I see that will happen.  I am excited to be a coach and a role model for these girls in volleyball and in life. I feel appreciated when the players, teachers at Parowan, and parents tell me thank you for the volunteer work I am doing.  They tell me it has taken a huge load off of their shoulders, and I’m really happy that I can help so much. I look forward to the following weeks and improving on coaching fundamental skills. I hope that I can help these girls learn how to be good student athletes and learn to love the game of volleyball.

Week three:
This week we made a lot of improvement involving volleyball skills.  I noticed how different intellectually each girl is when learning different skills.  Some things are much more confusing than others to each girl.  We finally won some games and it was fun to see their excitement and progress. Many girls are able to serve it over the net, even if it is only once. Progress is progress!
I am starting to get excited for the following weeks and how much we have to improve on. I am looking forward to getting to know the girls more and helping out the school and community by being a coach. I'm starting to realize that while I am helping these athletes learn to play volleyball and have sportsmanship, they are teaching me to be positive, enthusiastic, and patient not only on the court, but in my everyday dealings as well. 

Week four:
This week was more frustrating than the past three. 13-year-old girls are OFF THE RAILS! I am kind of a serious, competitive, get-it-done type of person.  When I was in high school, playing sports was fun, but I was extremely competitive and hard on myself.  Coaching these girls has been a task because I can’t get them to take it seriously (or as seriously as I want them to).  They acted like they didn’t care, and I was upset that they weren’t appreciating me for the efforts I was putting in to coach them.  Realizing this, I kind of was ornery last week and practice and games weren’t all too fun.  One practice, two girls were out of control.  They were hyper, disrespectful, and didn’t care about what was going on in practice. They interrupt me, roll their eyes at me, ignore me, avoid me, disrespect me, and I could swear, purposely try to annoy me.  I have to remind myself that they are pre-adolescents and that they’re just in a stage.  I just hope that I was never like that, even though I’m sure I was (sorry, my old coaches).  I have realized much more difficult this is than I expected. I still love it and learn so much, but it can definitely get frustrating. I am learning so much patience though!
Another thing that happened this week is I had to get mad at one girl during the game.  In games and practices, she gets frustrated with herself, her teammates, and me.  She rolls her eyes, doesn’t slap hands, and is extremely uncoachable.  She ignores my coaching and it honestly makes me feel bad.  I am doing this several hours a week, taking important time out of my day, schoolwork, relationships, etc. and sometimes I don’t feel like it’s worth it.  Not only does said girl offend me as a coach, but she offends and disrespects me as a person.  I do not, as a human being, deserve to be treated like that.  I pulled her aside during the game, after an eye rolling incident, and said, “You have got to have a better attitude.  No more eye rolling ignoring me, not slapping your teammates hands, etc. It’s not acceptable, and it never will be.  I don’t deserve to be treated like this, no one does.  You won’t play if you continue with this bad attitude”.
I realized I am a little impatient and need to be more understanding, especially if I plan on being a social worker or therapist someday.  I have a lot to learn, especially empathy. However, I believe this coaching experience is making me better at those things I am not so good at. I never realized that this experience would help me more than anyone else.

Week five:
This week, I realized I was not really connecting with the girls at practices or games.  I was kind of a mean coach up until this point.  I realized I was thinking about other things that were going on in my life while I should have been more engaged with and focused on the girls.  Because of this, I decided to buy small Gatorade for each of the girls and tie ribbons to them.  I plan on continuing this little project to give each girl before the remainder of the games.  When I was in high school, a tradition my volleyball team did was each girl wear the same ribbon at each game, and by the time state rolled around, we wore all the ribbons together (we won two state championships…. So yeah, I think it worked).  I was expecting the girls to not really care and not really understand or appreciate it, but they were extremely happy, excited, and appreciative.  I think this incident was one of the only times I heard the girls say “thank you” to me.  After this, I felt a little more connected to the girls.  I realized I shouldn’t hold it against them that they aren’t very successful in volleyball, but that I should connect with them, care for them, and be a good example to them.
I realized that if I want to be a professional in human services, I need to be more aware of those I’m helping/dealing with, and I shouldn’t let my busy and stressful personal life get in the way so much.  I had been impatient, ornery, and wanted thing done exactly my way.  I’m slowly but surely realizing that’s not the point.

Week six:
This week one of the girls on the volleyball team quit.  It was out of nowhere, and she didn’t even talk to me about it. Interestingly, this girl seemed to enjoy being there and was the most active and talkative of the group, so I was slightly surprised when she suddenly quit. felt really bad and felt like it was my fault, or maybe one of the other girls' fault. The whole situation made me want to be much more aware of the FULL situation going on, so I can prevent possible bullying and misunderstanding (if that was the case, I never found out).  
Another thing that’s becoming slightly frustrating, that I didn't really anticipate, is that the moms of the players are not minding their own business.  These girls say they can handle things on their own, but I never hear problems from them; I hear it from the mothers!  Parents in the stands, trying to referee, coach, and solve problems on the court is getting so frustrating.  None of these girls are learning to be independent, and I am definitely not feeling appreciated.
It does sound like I'm being super negative, so I think it's time to start being more positive, especially with the girls and when I'm talking about my service project. It's supposed to be an enjoyable experience, but it's been more difficult than anticipated. I am having fun though, at some times. 

Week seven:
This week, I was just straight up disappointed.  I thought that the girls would easily beat the team we were playing Tuesday.  NOPE. Big, fat, NOPE.  We are skilled enough and have made so much progress that I was finally looking forward to having a successful game.  I think I’ve figured it out, though: I’m coaching 13 year olds girls! That’s the problem.  I doubt they go home and think about volleyball.  They think about their friends and boys.  I doubt they practice on their own.  There are only two girls who are apparently and obviously competitive, but the rest of the girls couldn’t care less about losing or winning.  It’s frustrating because I know they can be successful, just like I was when I was there age.  I really did care about the sport and improving!
I am excited to be almost done, but I know I am going to miss it once it's over because there has been many good moments as well. I keep focusing on the bad ones, but they have improved so much as individuals and as a team, and I hope they keep improving and end the season on a good note.

Week eight:
“Wow,” is all I can say about this week. I have learned so much from this experience.
Thursday was our very last volleyball game.  We have 11 players, and only seven of them showed up in Fillmore to play against Millard.  That started the frustration for me.  It made me mad that I had put so much time and energy into practices and only had seven of them show up to their last game!  And they didn’t even tell us.  I had to drive 1 ½ hours to find two of my best players weren’t there, and four of them not there at all.  I had told them all season that they absolutely had to let us know if they weren’t coming to practices or games.  Nope, they never understood that concept (preteens). 
Oh, and it gets better.  Two girls started bleeding during the game (you can’t play with blood on your body) and that left five people on the court, and six are required to play.  One girl fell and hurt her wrist and was absolutely bawling the rest of the game.  That left six girls (after the other girls stopped their bleeding), which screwed up the whole rotation line-up that we had.  Then another girl lost her shoe and felt really embarrassed trying to get it back on in front of the whole crowd.  Five minutes later, said shoe girl started bawling.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said she hurt her ankle.  I didn’t believe her for a second (she wasn’t even limping), she was just crying because she was embarrassed.  And then we lost. 
However, there was an extreme positive to this whole trip to Fillmore! The girls got a pass, set, hit over the net and scored the point off of that. We were so excited, jumping up and down for joy! It was so rewarding to see their hard work pay off, and to see them so excited for accomplishing such a fundamental task.

In the beginning of the season, most of them had never played volleyball, let alone serve a ball over the net. At the end, almost all of them could make a serve over the net, plus knew the fundamentals of volleyball! To see their progress was truly remarkable.

Looking back at my journal entries, I feel bad for how negative I was about the whole situation. I definitely could have been more positive and had a lot better time with it. I know the girls enjoyed there time playing volleyball and I did as well, even though it was more difficult than I though it would be. I give major props to coaches/teachers of any kind, especially to early adolescents. However, this season was overall a very good learning experience. It had its ups and downs for sure, but I am so grateful for the opportunity. I am grateful I was able to teach many girls who had no idea how to play volleyball improve on their volleyball skills. I am grateful I was able to help out the school and community by providing coaching, because without me, they wouldn't have even had a team because there was no one else to coach. I had a very fun time, even though it was more difficult than I anticipated. I am so glad I chose coaching volleyball for my EDGE Project!

Here are a few photos of the journey:

Ribbons and gatorade for "good luck"

Ribbons in their hair. :)

Thanks for reading along!


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