Friday, November 7, 2014

Coach Carleton: The Beginning, Before the First Practice

My husband Will took a photo of me wearing my Halloween costume so I could Facebook-fish for compliments. In the caption I asked my friends to guess who I was.

"A sexy librarian" was the top pick, which made me smile, since that's what I was going for. I basically wore my day-to-day wardrobe of a cardigan over a dress, knee high socks, and clogs, with my hair up in a messy bun held together by a pencil. Only, to make it "sexy," I wore an industrial strength push-up bra, size 42DDD, mind you, and a tight dress. 

That's one good thing about having a Venus Figurine body type: slap on a fancy bra and a tight dress and you're ready to go out for the night. No need to fuss over your hair or makeup. Manicures and pedicures? Don't waste your money. You really think people are going to be looking at your hair and nails and not at your monumental mammary glands? Haven't you seen that episode of SNL where the women evolved to have eyes on their breasts so men would finally look them in the eye? 

Not everyone agreed with the "Sexy Librarian" guess, though. One friend suggested I looked like someone else, someone I never would have thought of: the awful Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda.

Sexy Librarian or Miss Trunchbull?

Ouch. Just when I start feeling sexy, I'm compared to that monstrous hag? I'm stocky, yes. I wear knee high socks like Miss Trunchbull, yes. But I'm no monster. I'm about as much of a stern disciplinarian as Miss Honey. Not at all like the sadistic headmistress who abuses children--the one my friend thought I had dressed up as for a kid's holiday.

Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda
image source

I can kind of see it, now that she mentions it. I've been a librarian for twenty-one years, and just recently I was picked to volunteer to coach my third grade daughter's basketball team. No, stop laughing. I'm serious. Yes, they most certainly are that desperate, and yes, I do have delusions of grandeur so much I'm willing to try anything once. Remember? I'm the spiritually ambivalent non-churchgoer who somehow got suckered into joining a progressive Presbyterian church with my daughter last year. I absolutely love it. Now they've got me teaching Sunday School. I keep telling them that the kids know more about the Bible than I do, that they are teaching me more than I am teaching them, but they don't seem to have a problem with the concept of an adult learning from a child.

Katie, age 8, third grade.

Katie just finished "basketball school" and now she's ready to join a team.When the league emailed the parents to beg for a coach, I half-jokingly agreed, but I explained that I haven't played basketball in thirty years. I probably haven't even watched a game in a decade. Generally, when my Facebook timeline blows up with images and videos and conversations about most sports, I close my screen and pick up a book. I've always thought sports were more fun to play than to watch.

I used to be a great basketball player. I was on the all-star team two years in a row, and in seventh grade I won the layup contest by making 24 out of 25 baskets.

I had to quit basketball because of my boobs. Not because I'm a woman who has boobs in general. Just my boobs in particular. You see, I was an extremely early developer. I got my first bra in third grade. By high school I looked less like a baller and more like a Babushka. I had to quit playing basketball because my swollen breasts hurt every time I'd run down the court. Either there weren't sports bras back then or my mom didn't know about them, because when I finally told my mom about how much it hurt to run, she said it was OK for me to drop out.

I've played a game of HORSE here and there over the years, but for the most part, I haven't played basketball since I was 13, thirty-one years ago. I'm still fairly active in my own middle-aged way. I even own a sports bra now. I walk around the neighborhood, with my dogs, at the dog park. I play games with our eight year old in the back yard. I take walking breaks at work. I'm not a total slacker.

By the looks of my body, you'd think otherwise. I've been back on sertraline, used to treat my post-traumatic-stress-disorder and clinical depression, for about a year now. I feel more alive, more like myself. I love it. I never would have had the energy to get out of bed and coach a girl's basketball team, and teach Sunday School, and work at the public library, if it weren't for my meds. But I've gained almost thirty pounds, which is a lot on any frame, but especially a lot because I was already fat. My weight keeps creeping up over the years no matter how much exercise I get or how much food I eat or how many carbs or protein or fat or sugar or anything is in the food I eat. My doctor and I know weight gain is a side-effect of this medicine that makes me feel alive, and my weight gain hasn't hurt my good biometric ratings. My blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol are all within the healthy range. I might look pudgy and quite wobbly running along the sidelines, coaching my badass baller girls, but hopefully they can soon learn that health comes in all sizes and Coach Carleton will prove it.

Being a Health At Every Size activist these last three years, I'm not supposed to worry about my weight gain. I know better. I should practice what I preach. But body acceptance is hard in our culture. When I pull on a slightly tight t-shirt and sweat pants and a hoodie I have to give a pretty good heave to zip up, I worry what people will think when they see me. I love my body. My husband loves my body. My daughter is thankful for my body and loves it. Why should I care if a bunch of 3rd grade girls and their parents think my body is uncoach-like? One of the tenets of the Health at Every Size philosophy is to move your body in pleasurable ways. Not when you're ten pounds thinner. Not when you're fifty pounds thinner. Now. Right now.

That's my personal goal. This basketball season, I would like to learn to feel good about my body, to move my body in pleasurable ways in public, away from the safe walks around my neighborhood and under the sheets in bed with my husband. I'm ready to start coaching these impressionable young girls on not just how to play a game and love it, but how to feel good about your body. Right now. Growing up is hard. Bodies change at different rates. Lots of kids get pudgy around third grade, or else they can't put any meat on their bones no matter how many seconds or thirds they take at the dinner table. It shouldn't matter. Fat kids. Skinny kids. All kids should know they are allowed to have fun with their bodies.

So as of today, you can call me Coach Carleton, or, Becky the Baller Librarian, if you're not into that whole brevity thing.


A Baller Librarian, that's me. So I see my friend's point about my Halloween costume. Miss Trunchbull looks like a Baller Librarian. Only the scary old-fashioned stereotypes of the cranky, shushing librarian and the gruff, verbally abusive coach. 

I'm ready to reinvent what it means to be a badass Baller Librarian. I told a friend at work, who was chuckling at the idea of my nerdy ass coaching a bunch of little jocks that, just as I never shush people at the library, I will never yell at any of the girls to "hustle" on the court. Hustle. When I played, from age 11-13, I always hated it when my coach would yell, "hustle!" I felt like yelling back, "Damn, old man! Why don't you get out here and run beside me and see how much hustle you've got in you?"

Like I do at the library with noisy patrons, I'll approach a girl who seems like she hasn't got much hustle left in her, and we'll have a conversation, instead of me embarrassing her in front of a crowd.

At the library:

"Sir, some other library patrons have been complaining about the noise around here. Please be considerate of those around you..."

On the court:

"Chin up! It's a game, not an endurance test. Are you having fun? Do you think your teammates are having fun?" You know, that kind of uplifting affirmation type shit that calms kids down instead of the yelling approach, which heightens anxiety.

I'm going to be an empathetic coach. I have one goal: to have fun. Our team might never be basketball stars--heck, with me as a coach, we might never learn all the rules--but we'll have fun. 

So, how do we get to that point? First, I need to learn the basics of how to coach youth basketball before I can evolve into an empathetic coach. Because I am a librarian, I know how to find information. Haven't played basketball in thirty years, yet somehow got wrangled into coaching your kid's team and you have no idea where to start? Just ask a librarian. We'll point you to where you need to go.

Me, age 13
1983-1984, seventh grade girls' basketball

I found a self-paced online class through the library. It's called Universal Class, and through my library you can access it for free with a library card anywhere with internet service.

Today's the first day of practice, so naturally I haven't finished the course. In fact, I've only gotten through the introduction. I like it already. Which is why I'm taking it in so slowly. That, and I'm a natural procrastinator, so if I don't get through the whole course before I have to go coach tonight, and I royally screw something up, I can blame it on my ignorance of the subject matter due to a lack of time spent studying it instead of just my innate slacker awkwardness whenever I find myself in any sort of leadership role.

What I like best about the online class, so far, is that I feel like the teacher has empathy for my plight. Right from the beginning:

"Your child has just come home and starts talking to you about how much they want to join the basketball team. Tryouts are next week. They are waving a brightly colored flier in one hand and looking at you with those big excited eyes. All you want to do is take your shoes off, check your messages and have dinner. But, your offspring is relentless...They will work extra chores and be nice to their siblings. You know this won't last, but you succumb anyway...

"You start filling the forms out and notice a block on the bottom of the page asking if you are interested in becoming a coach. You think to yourself, 'Do they have a coach? Surely they wouldn't have tryouts without a coach.' Well, they do have a coach, but he is ready to retire the woman taking the registrations tells you, because he's tired and wants to enjoy his golden years while he can.

"You look over the box again and again, then look at your excited child and tell the woman that if they absolutely can't find anyone else, you'll consider it. Guess what? You get a phone call within three days asking you to become the coach, because they couldn't find anyone else."

--From "How to Coach Youth Basketball on Universal Class.

Amen! This teacher knows what I'm in for. Better get back to class.