As I do almost every weekday in the Spring, I will leave my office today in the middle of the afternoon. And as I make my early exit from the corporate world, I will pass co-workers in their cubicles, perhaps exchanging wishes for a good weekend. I know they’re thinking that I’ve got a pretty sweet deal — the flexibility to ditch my obligations well before the evening rush hour for the opportunity to go spend a few care-free hours coaching high school athletes in the noble sport of Track and Field.
And half hour later, there I am standing in front of fifty young runners, jumpers, and throwers. And as I gaze out over fifty angelic faces, fifty lovely kids of whom I’ve grown very fond, and as I pause to make sure I have their attention before presenting them with The Plan for the day — in that moment, a single thought flashes through my mind:
AM I INSANE?!
Already today, I have answered a half-dozen emails from parents about our upcoming meet; signed countless “pink slips” excusing from that meet athletes who are key to our success but who have some other unbreakable commitment on that day; exchanged several emails with administrators about problems with food, transportation, and weather; listened to too many reports of sore knees, shins, hips, feet, hamstrings, and shoulders; spent hours figuring out how to coach three separate event groups during the same 45-minute window; and for the hundredth time that day pushed aside the feeling that I am the most disorganized person ever to be handed responsibility for the well-being of young people.
Later on, I will be asked by a freshman whether he can “borrow a javelin” over the weekend for extra-curricular throwing (perhaps target practice on the local squirrel population?). I will have to explain that we adults at the school have this ridiculously cautious approach to loaning out weapons to underage athletes. Another question concerns what training I would recommend for someone who has been ill for the past three days, is still ill today, and now, with two days before our meet, wants to know what to do tomorrow to make up for the missed time. It’s a bonus that I get a full description of the effects of this recent intestinal virus to help me formulate my answer.
I don’t mind the questions, really, but with each one I become a little bit less focused on the business of the day, which is managing to do some sort of training, some minimal amount of preparation for actual competition. By the end of practice, my brain will be a fine puree of thoughts and impressions, and I will wonder how I could possibly have mismanaged the time so completely. I am the worst coach in the history of the sport, and it’s a wonder that they haven’t already replaced me with someone who can AT LEAST take attendance properly.
Luckily, my assistant coaches, who are great, will have managed to maintain some order, so no kids will have been lost, and the day will not be a complete disaster. But I really shouldn’t force them to improvise so much.
Oh well. I promise myself that I’ll plan everything out better tomorrow. But in the mean time the daylight is fading, and I still need to get a run in. But first, there are still a few kids who never got a chance to chat during practice, and they’ve got a variety of thoughts and concerns. Who will be in my race on Saturday? What should I do about my sore quad? What’s a good time for the 400? What times do you need to run in college?
A half hour later, I finally head out for my run.
But wait, it’s only now that I remember I warmed up three hours ago, and then spent a good chunk of the afternoon trying to demonstrate hurdle drills, crossover steps for the javelin, running a curved approach for the high jump… Why on earth did I do that? Muscles that I haven’t used in years are complaining with every step. I vow that I’ll bring in a video next time and not try to coax my body into doing things it has no business doing.
By the end of my run, I’m feeling a little less shell-shocked. But by now it’s pretty late and I was up really early. No time to stretch (or shower), so I just head home. I’ll do some stretching and rolling there (hah!). Then I’ll check to see what twenty emails came in from work while I was having fun at practice, as well as another batch of emails from school with more questions. Do I need spikes for the meet? Can I arrive at practice late tomorrow? Can I leave practice early tomorrow?
What would it be like, I think, to have the time to run as much as I wanted, to warm-up and cool-down on my own schedule, to stretch and roll, and do core strength without an audience of fifty? What would it be like to put my own fitness at the top of the agenda, to indulge in my own workouts on my own timetable? What would it be like to have that kind of flexibility? I know I should be cherishing every day of the season, but in spite of myself, I begin to dream about how nice it would be to have long, luxurious afternoons when I can stay at work and finish those assignments so that I don’t have angry emails waiting for me in the evening. And I dream of weekends without meets and without Sunday afternoons spent constructing elaborate and ultimately impossible plans to teach seventeen separate track and field events with a staff of three.
That’s how it was at the end of last year’s track season. I was so happy to be out, to be free. The feeling lasted for about a week. And then one day, without thinking about it, I pulled out a pad of paper and I started jotting down ideas for the next season. You know what would be really great? We should start an indoor track team, so we don’t have to wait so long between cross country and outdoors.
Am I insane?
If the spike fits…