When I took over as coach of the team 2 years ago, I inherited a relatively small team of about 10 kids. As assistant coach, I'd worked with the kids and felt like I had a pretty good handle on how to run a team on my own. Of course, I didn't take into account that I would not have an assistant. (My term as assistant coach was mostly an "apprentice" period to prepare me for taking over the team when the head coach retired. It was our clever scheme to make sure that the team would be passed onto me and not onto a new hire.) I also didn't take into account the fact that the team might grow. Last year, the team was about 15 kids strong. This year, we're up to 20. So the team has doubled in 2 years. And there's little old me spending a good 2-3 hours after school every night trying to groom those 20 kids into award-winning prose readers and dramatic interpreters and impromptu speakers and more. I'm exhausted! And the season is only 2 weeks old!!!
Of course, the young season has already provided its share of tears, drama, and laughter. I've already shared the story of Jodi, my homeless student, who debuts her piece this weekend, who cried when I told her the speech team would pay for her speech team t-shirt. There's Malik, one of the team's star seniors who had a slight breakdown at his debut last weekend, putting pressure on himself to top last season's success (which included being the only member of the team to break into finals at Sectionals). There's Matthew, one of our "newbies" who, in his own case of stage fright and worrying he would forget his memorized piece during performance, wrote it on his hands -- and then flashed his hands, covered in blue ink, to the judges. There's Emily, another "newbie" who is trying her hand at impromptu speaking. Emily's first speech that she practiced with me was roughly one minute long. For her second speech a day or two later, her topic was "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," a proverb she clearly had never heard before judging by the speech she delivered that involved her rambling about tame birds and wild birds and somehow devolved into a discussion of petting dogs and the need to wash your hands afterwards. Emily is very sweet and earnest but it's clear she's lacking in exposure to culture and vocabulary. (A more recent practice involved her relating the plot of a book she'd read for a book report where a young woman was raped and "was really not happy about it.") I've recommended she start keeping a journal where she writes down books and stories she's read, to start spending time on the internet reading about historical figures and sayings. I even recommended she spend some time on SparkNotes (which caused one of my juniors to gasp in horror) to learn about some more "literary" novels than the ones she's reading for her book reports. There's no way this kid could probably handle reading Anna Karenina, but she may be able to handle the SparkNotes for it -- and add some intellectual heft to her speeches that they might not otherwise have.
This Saturday, I'm taking all 20 kids to a tournament just outside Peoria. For some, it may be the start of a successful season. For others, it could be an ego-shattering experience. But through it all, I have to remain the rock and keep my own ego and competitive spirit in check -- something that's easier said than done, I know.