As you may remember from my post this February, I finally found an amazing mentorship program in which I could volunteer. Girls on the Run has been one of the greatest and most challenging learning experiences of my life. For those of you that don’t know me, teaching children is one of my greatest fears. Ironically, my mother is an elementary school teacher, so you’d assume it would be in my blood. Not even close.
You would also assume it would come naturally to me since I am passionate about run coaching and training. Again, not so much. Children present a completely different challenge than adults; they are motivated differently, and often in ways that I have forgotten after years spent in stressful environments and the overall result of becoming an adult. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was terrified to show up to my first practice.
What would the girls be like? What would they think of me? Would they listen, or just get frustrated and tell me everything we were teaching was stupid or boring? My fellow coach had warned me that it would be a challenge to keep the girls engaged and interested, but I decided to remain optimistic and take it as a bit of an exaggeration. True to her word, the first practice was more than a challenge, and not what I expected. While I knew that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park (pun intended, 🙂 ) I didn’t expect the worst. No matter what I said, nothing seemed to motivate them to listen to the curriculum and even be remotely open to mentoring or any form of a discussion. The reason I had joined had suddenly become irrelevant, and it seemed that our presence had become equally so.
After a few weeks of this, coupled with the tears from social spats between girls, I didn’t think I had anything left to offer to better the situations at hand or even begin to build a mentorship. I had tried every angle my mother had suggested and a few of my own, all to no avail. It wasn’t until one day, midseason, that I finally got it right, and in the most unexpected way possible.
After taking nearly 30 minutes to wrangle the girls together and try and present the lesson, my fellow coach and I lost it. Over half the girls were running around playing with other classmates on the playground, and a scattered few were clinging to us crying because they wanted to do the activity but not enough of their teammates were present to begin it. Practice was ended immediately, and we brought all the girls back into the classroom. I told them that it had been their choice to not have practice, as they had chosen to not participate and respect their teammates and coaches. Consequently, they also did not earn a snack as a result. It broke my heart to see them so sad and confused, but something needed to be done to let them know that this was not ok.
I left practice completely heartbroken and upset myself, and for the first time in years, I cried on my way home. Failure was the common theme that month, and I didn’t think I had any strength left to deal with anything else. Nothing was going right in my life, and I couldn’t even feel happy during an activity I had chosen because it was something I was excited and passionate about. I had no idea how I was going to finish the rest of the season, let alone that month.
The following week, we showed up to practice to find smiles and the most touching handwritten and colorful “I’m sorry” card I’ve ever seen. Tons of hugs followed by requests for the day’s activity ensued, along with sparkly smiles. We had decided to spice up (or really, down) the activity of the day, and turn the activity into a less scripted and more “real-talk” version, complete with examples taken from the girls’ daily lives, to include the schoolyard spats they had among each other. By tossing the teacher image and letting down our guards, we were able to make a better connection with our girls. I was floored that this, of all things, was the answer.
I had learned something that I never expected to learn: being a mentor wasn’t always about being perfect or an authority figure, but rather, a relatable individual with the capacity to understand and help shape the mindset of someone else.
Practices that followed were not always perfect, and were not always completed by the book. It was so far from what I had ever expected, and in the best way possible. However, our relationships with the girls became exactly what I had expected them to be, and I could see a new light in each of them.
Today was our culminating event, the end of the season 5k race. I was honored to share my day with such amazing little girls, and be there with them as they completed such a great milestone. Each one of them has touched my heart, and made me a stronger person. They were not the only ones making personal growth through the program; they brought out a strength and new level of love in me, and I will always be grateful for that.
Our girls had a love for speed intervals, sprinting for as long as possible before jogging or walking for a moment, then going again!
A 5 year old joins hands with her sister who is in the program, and runs with us all!
Bling everywhere, and a blue “ombre like Mandy” to boot! (recognize that Sephora hair mascara? 😉 )
More blue hair and bling at the finish by all!
It has been an honor to be a part of this organization, and and even greater honor to get to know and be a part of these girls’ lives. I will be back again next season with Cleveland Elementary, and will always continue to be a part of the program in whatever capacity possible in years to come. Girls on the Run was not what I expected, it was something far better.