The Power Of A Coach

Some of my youngest runners getting ready to tackle the mile.

Some of my youngest runners getting ready to tackle the mile.

I have been struggling with this “first post” for a couple months now. I want to tell you who I am, why I’m doing this, and what the future holds for my blog, site, and business. However, that’s a lot to do in a few short paragraphs. Today, I decided, that will all come – I just need to jump right in. Here goes.

In 4th grade I started playing “Girls Club” Softball. Most of the girls had been doing it a lot longer, so I was behind them in terms of skill level. I was pretty awful at first, and I would get nervous anytime the ball came towards me in a game or I had to bat. My first season, this meant they benched me or put me in the outfield where I was less likely to be a problem. I don’t remember much from that season other than the panicked feeling when a ball was hit towards me. My second season, I was put on a different team with a different coach. She recognized my anxiety, and instead of ignoring it, made me play and practice every position. She made me feel like she wanted me on the team, and the girls did the same. She always reminded me when I would get nervous that she was putting me in a position because she felt like I could handle it. One game, she asked me to pitch. It was the first time I would throw up because I was anxious. I’d only practiced it a couple times – and not very successfully. She looked at me and said, “Ash, we have no one else who can do this right now. We only have you. Don’t worry about throwing a strike, just throw the ball over the plate.” I did what she said. A lot of girls hit off me, but at the end of the game, she told me – “They hit off of you because you did your job – you got it over the plate. We’ll work on strikes later.”

Over the next week and (and year), I drew a square on a wall behind my house. That was my strike zone. I measured the distance from there to a mound, and I marked it. For hours, I would go behind my house and practice pitching at this wall. Looking back, it’s probably my first bout of obsessive exercise. I never became an incredibly strong thrower, but I got accurate. Using the rubber ball meant I had to field the return, so I became quick responding and fielding. Turns out, short stop was a great position for me as well. All of a sudden, I had confidence. I had a coach that believed in me, a position on a team, and I felt like I was good at something.

We moved again in 7th grade, and I had to try out for the middle school team (7th and 8th grade). I didn’t know the other girls trying out, and I didn’t know the coach. She knew many of the girls from field hockey (I played boys soccer) or P.E. class. We had 2 days of tryouts. For fielding, we lined up. If we missed the ball, we were out. If we fielded it, we got back in line. I remember being the second from last person left in that exercise, and that’s all I remember from the try out. I was cut from the team, and didn’t pick up my softball glove ever again. A year later, I had her for PE and during the baseball/softball segment, she asked me how come I hadn’t tried out for the school team the year before and if I’d try out that year. By then, I had taught myself that sometimes it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I would never be good enough.

I joined cross-country in high school because a friend told me about a couple cute boys on the team. I didn’t really “get it” at first and was okay sticking it out with my friend at the back of the pack. I was great at slacking, complaining, and faking workouts. I wasn’t ready to push myself to hurt … or to put myself in a position to be hurt. I was content at the back of the pack with my friend – there, I didn’t have to push myself and no one had expectations (including myself).  If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t fail.  At the first meet, I don’t know what happened – but the gun went off – and I ran. I ran hard. The secret was out and there was no more hiding, but we found a place I might belong.

My high school coach trying to calm my anxieties before a meet.

My high school coach trying to calm my anxieties before a meet.

My coach joked at the end of that year at the County Awards Banquet about how lucky she was the cross-country team didn’t have cuts. Really, it’s that I’m that lucky one. I found myself on the cross-country course. My cross- country coach would help me learn that if I worked hard I could get better. She saw potential in me. I would get nervous at every meet, and she’d remind me to do my job. RUN! I’d get stuck in my head about everything I thought I couldn’t do, and she’d give me a reason to believe I could. I would have bad meets (heck, I would have bad seasons), and she reminded me that it didn’t mean I wasn’t good enough – we just needed to adjust our training a little.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous coaches and trainers – mostly as a runner. I try to mimic those who have pushed me to be great. Those who were willing to look at me as a person instead of following a written formula or guide. Those who had a way to make me feel at ease –and who taught me to trust them when they said I could do something. Those who made me feel like I was good enough but pushed me to give a little more anyway. Those who believed in me and gave me a chance.

... Races still get emotional though.

… Races still get emotional though.

I never want to be the reason someone walks off the track and never comes back or puts his/her running shoes down to never put them on again. Whether they are just beginning and aiming to run their first 5k or they are a nationally ranked athlete, my goal and my job is to help them see their potential and to push them to achieve it. To believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves, and to help them become the best versions of themselves. My job as a coach and trainer is to give my athletes the tools to achieve their goals, and that’s more than a training program.  – Ashley Kelso