Chelle Summer

The Coach's Wife: Reflections on a Season

Michelle Rusk

When I was coaching for the first time– at age 22 in the mid-1990s, the man I coached track and field with had been coaching since the early 1970s. Pretty much his first years of coaching were around when I was born. I remember once he got upset because the girls didn't seem to be as dedicated to him and he often compared them to the kids he first coached in the early 1970s. I kept thinking, "Kids have changed. How can you expect them to be the same?" He wasn't willing to budge on his own coaching style which still worked for some girls but fewer and fewer as the gap grew between those first years and the then-present time.

When Greg and I got together four years ago, I found him in a similar boat of learning to coach differently because kids had changed. He had won five girls soccer state championships in the early 1990s at La Cueva High School before moving onto coach womens soccer at the college level and then returning to high school coaching just a year before we met.

By the time he returned to high school coaching, not only had the kids changed but so had he. He didn't want to be the coach who ran the girls after a loss (the joke in our house is that's why I can't coach– because I would still be the person to make them do that). But the reality was that as much as the girls might have told him to push them, they couldn't handle that kind of coaching because their lives are very different. They can't be pushed the same way as kids ten or twenty years ago.

He knew this season the girls had a chance to do something special and he found himself trying to balance pushing them without it backfiring until he realized that he had to meet his girls where they were at. And this was exactly what a Wall Street Journal article over the weekend addressed with the Houston Astros– how they changed their clubhouse culture based on meeting athletes where they were at rather than forcing them to be something they weren't. And look, they won a World Series.

To watch Greg's team warm up was painful for an intense person like myself. The girls were out on the field dancing around to music between their stretches while across the field the other team looked like they were in the military with an intensity that left the air so thick you could slice it.

I worried that they wouldn't be ready for the semifinal game and kept reminding myself that Greg had spent a season letting it go, letting them be them because that's when they did the best. 

They won the metro tournament title; they won the toughest district in the state. They made it to the state championship game– a game that no one thought they would make because they had choked the past two years in their first state tournament games. While they were never written up as the dark horse, I knew they were the dark house and it was that lack of media coverage that allowed them to lurk in the dark and enjoy the game.

And that's exactly what they did, making the championship game for the first time in their young school's history. 

They lost in overtime Saturday, finishing second in the state tournament. But they did it their way, a way that worked for this team but might not work for others. And it forced Greg to grow, too, because if he had coached them how he might have coached any other team in the past, they might not have accomplished all that they did.

While being an athlete is about learning to push yourself outside your box, so is coaching. If you want to do it well.