Written by Leisha Masi, Swim Head Coach
It’s hard sometimes for me to believe, but I have been coaching during the Spring season for the past 22 years. Prior to March 13th, the toll of two decades had me mulling over the commitment it takes for me to maintain my professional and personal life while coaching. With my daughter moving into more commitments and her own pursuits in the sport of swim, I had serious moments where I was weighing whether or not this could be one of my last seasons as a coach. Of course, this happens every year about this time as the fatigue, the gray clouds, the rain, the early morning practice times all conspire to make one wonder. What if…
Circumstances in mid-March made it even more of a challenge for me this season as our team hadn’t quite hit our stride. Our girls water polo team had just returned from the State championships, we had not held our first league meet, and a thunderstorm canceled the meet we had planned for the day before the day we didn’t get a chance to say good-bye.
That Friday the 13th when our principal called an emergency staff meeting, nothing was told to us about canceling school, practice time, or team building activities. Everything was fluid. We left campus swiftly and hit “pause”. It wasn’t long before that “pause” became “canceled”. And what hurts me, and at times makes me incredibly sad, is that I haven’t been able to have the face to face conversations, meetings, and celebrations that are the joys of my coaching experience. I didn’t get a chance to look my kids in the eyes and say good bye.
This is most significant as I think about our seniors. Our society doesn’t quite seem to recognize rites of passage as emotionally taxing. And for our seniors this year, I can imagine the transition into their next stage of life may be even more difficult than normal because of the way this year just ended. They deserve the time to celebrate their high school journeys and efforts and they deserve the opportunity to have their team and coaches still celebrate and honor them for the legacy they helped create. Yet none of them will get that.
What I have found even more so now (as I suppose is often the case when you have time to reflect) is that coaching is indeed in my blood. What does not concern me in the least are the meets we could have won or the championships we could have earned. What does sadden me are the opportunities lost. This is the time of year where the banter among teammates, the team camaraderie, the relationships built, the sacrifices made, the energy spent, the goals set or met, the CIF time standards earned, the laughter, the team meals, the bus rides to meets – the journey of it all, is now truly plucked out of our lives. I hope the kids I coached gain even more appreciation for these moments, I know I do.
In a recent note to the team, I included the message that this time in their lives is what their purpose is now. My purpose has indeed changed. The frenzy of the spring season and school year looks so different. The time I have always craved with my daughter and the chance to breathe in April and May (albeit with a mask on now) is here and given to me. Like a gift. And I should not take it for granted.
I challenged my athletes to try and realize this moment as their opportunity to be a part of something more than themselves and to formulate relationships that are hard to come by otherwise. We are now all on a team together – making a common sacrifice and moving toward a common goal to remain healthy, alive, and thrive. Just as our day-to-day goals have changed, they should redefine their current purpose, adjust their sights, and come back so much more grateful for the opportunity to be together; a chance to say hello again in better ways.
But of course there is perspective. We know this is necessary, it is needed, it is the right thing to do. Our kids – remember they are kids – will learn great skills through this adversity. I hope it is in the form of greater mental toughness and a passion to compete. But, I would also expect them to grieve a bit. Many have worked incredibly hard to reach big goals this year and many were forming amazing relationships and making huge strides as athletes new to the sport. And mostly, they are away from their friends and team. They too, didn’t get a chance to say good-bye.
I have realized through this small time in our lives the great JOY that high school athletics has given me. I am reflective at this time of my own high school journey and what it would have been like to have it pulled from me. Some of my greatest memories come from the times spent with my own high school and college teammates. And as a coach, I hope that our student-athletes recognize how to truly empathize for one another, appreciate the time together, and see what amazing opportunities we have to redefine what their purpose may look like in their teenage life right now. What a gift to grow as human beings and may we all come back the better for it.
And so, we will not say good-bye the way we enjoy doing it most – with celebration over team accomplishments, and personal time improvements. We have lost opportunities, this is true, but we have gained another one … the chance to say hello in a more meaningful way when we meet again.
Leisha Masi has been at Martin Luther King High School since 2000, and has served as a cross country coach, track coach, AP Language teacher, English Department Chair and the head coach of Swim since 2014