It’s time to cheer on our many coaches, who work tirelessly with Island kids in the sports on the Island. Whether it’s the seasoned full-time professional who trains teenage athletes for competition, or the volunteer parent helping out with his child’s Little League team, our Island coaches are dedicated. Six athletic coaches shared their thoughts on coaching: why they chose the sport, what they value in training, and what, at the end of the day, they see as their goals.
Track and field; cross-country coach, MVRHS
Physical ed. teacher, West Tisbury School, grades 3 to 8
High School Coach/Middle School PE Teacher
Each afternoon, after teaching phys. ed. at the West Tisbury School, I come to the high school, coaching grades 9 through 12. I coach track and field both in the winter and the spring, and I coach cross-country in the fall. We just started a new indoor winter track program two years ago. I’ve taken on three seasons, which is sometimes insane … It’s a lot of fun, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.
28th Year Teaching and Coaching
This is my 28th year both teaching and coaching on the Island.
I just enjoy being around the kids. They give you a lot of energy…. People who are stuck in a job where they see the same people every day can be difficult. I couldn’t see myself doing that.
Growing Up in Sports: Michigan and Ohio
I grew up in sports — my dad was a teacher and coach in Michigan. We [later] moved to Ohio, where I gravitated toward track in high school. This extended to college: I ran track for Ohio Wesleyan, where I got my teaching degree.
I’ve spent many hours in a gym, that’s for sure, whether spectating or just being there with my dad.
Ninth Through 12th Grade
There are challenges in every grade … In high school, at least in our sport, once you begin the season and everyone gets into the flow of things, the grade level doesn’t matter. You will have ninth graders performing with and against 12th graders, which is unusual in most sports. I think that’s part of the attraction of the sport — you are able to compete at a varsity level right away.
Coaching to Motivate
The main challenge in coaching is keeping kids motivated. There is talent in every kid; you just have to bring it out of them.
Yes, we have meets that extend from north of Boston, to some an hour and ten minutes away.
In sports at the high school in general, it’s a huge commitment, because of the travel. The kids have to be responsible for their schoolwork, and on top of traveling, have to be responsible for training. We get a very dedicated athlete. Most days that we have a meet, we will leave at 12:30 for the 1:15 boat, so they miss the last period of the day — work that they must be responsible for in their studies to keep up.
Coed an Advantage
All our practices are coed; that’s unique and another attraction of track and field. We compete as two separate teams, but competing at the same time and at the same site.
Coed is definitely an advantage, always an advantage. I think the kids will tell you that, too.
The parents are great, because they get it: They know the amount of work we are putting in, and I think the parents are very supportive of what we do. They help with booster functions, team dinners, helping out at meets; they’re very supportive.
For kids with special skills, I encourage them right away to continue with the sport … they’ve got some God-given talent. Then we’ll have a kid who comes out of nowhere; that happens more often than just the natural athlete. That’s the gratifying part of coaching … you work with a kid, then all of a sudden they get it. Sometimes those are the kids easier to coach than the ones with talent right away.
Volleyball coach, West Tisbury School, grades 6 to 8, coed
We are coed volleyball, with the age range 11 to 14. I do not hold tryouts to make it on the team. After a week or so of practice, I make the decision who will be on Varsity and who on the JV team. It’s rare to have a sixth grader playing Varsity.
Coaching and Teaching
This is my sixth season coaching at West Tisbury. I started in 2011 when the person who was coaching stopped, so I was a body to fill the spot … I wish I could say it was for my volleyball expertise!
One of the things I love about coaching is that you get to see the kids in a different atmosphere where you’re not teacher/student. You’re coach.
The team is coed, and I really enjoy that aspect. During the day, I teach fifth grade, and am a teaching assistant for language arts and social studies. With my fifth grade class, I find I can do early recruitment for volleyball … so I talk it up while they are in fifth grade, get them ready for the best sport there is. Then, when they become sixth graders, they are ready to sign up.
With the coaching at this level, my No. 1 thing is to keep it FUN. Let’s have a good time — we are here to play middle school volleyball.
Teamwork and Communication
I like to emphasize to the students that we are one team, the West Tisbury volleyball team. At each game, the varsity plays first; I expect everyone to stick around after the game to cheer on the JV.
We all practice together — it’s good for the [younger ones] to practice with the older students. It’s an opportunity for them to get together, to laugh together, play together. I’ve had girls equally strong athletically if not sometimes better … When they’ve kept at it, by eighth grade they are really strong out there on the court.
Teamwork is huge in volleyball. We really emphasize cheering each other on; we don’t get down on each other, there is no negativity.
Hopefully the skill that they get out of it at the end of the season is the communication part. They are constantly talking on the court to each other … some games better than others. A big part of it [communication] translates to the rest of your life.
We’ve had some success in six years, with three championships. I like to be involved in the school community outside of just the classroom hours, as you get to see different sides of the kids, developing a better relationship. It’s a key part of being a teacher. Coaching is one more way to do that, and I enjoy it. So it’s a win-win.
Girls tennis, MVRH
The Team: Singles and Doubles
N: Last year was our first year coaching girls tennis at the high school. Anyone can show up to try out for the team. This year we have 14 players. There are five varsity positions altogether — three single and two double positions. The girls compete for those positions by playing against each other.
N: I think the most important thing we want to create on a team is a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. This is challenging in tennis: While it’s an individual sport, you are playing together as a team.
L: Knowing that you have a team behind you and supporting you is important; you really need that.
N: We work on technique where we need to. Our goal is about getting everybody match-ready, not really teaching the fundamentals of tennis. We do that a little bit.
A lot of the girls have had the benefit of good coaching at Vineyard Youth Tennis. I taught there for the past seven years, so most of these girls I know. VYT is an amazing opportunity for Island kids to become good tennis players. Our Varsity girls have been playing competitively for at least five years now, or longer.
L: The season flies by so quickly. It’s more about putting the girls in drills so they are match-ready.
L: I played college tennis and taught tennis during the summers. I moved here in 1989, and have been playing since then on the Vineyard. For several summers I taught at Farm Neck.
N: Liz and I met 15 years ago, when we started playing doubles together. We compete in USTA League tennis and various tournaments throughout the year. About five years ago, I helped start a Martha’s Vineyard USTA League. We now have four different levels of League tennis here, which is really great.
N: While the match is in progress, coaching is allowed at certain times, which gives us an opportunity to talk to the girls. That’s a really important little moment. It can be a pivotal point.…
L: For the girls, it’s reassuring knowing they are not all alone out there, they have the support of both their coaches and their teammates.
Do they depend on you? Yes, you mostly see it during those crucial times. Having all that support can make a difference. The tough ones: There’s no practicing for the tough ones, you just hope you give good advice.
N: It’s really important for kids to have adults who they have an important relationship with who aren’t their parents, and aren’t their family. It’s a special role.
L: It makes a big difference having that positive effect on your life.
Two Coaches and a Special Role
L: We are lucky there are two of us.
N: There’s no way to keep your eye on five matches, so we take turns … we go back and forth, one of us is at either place. We’ll both see different things to say to the girls.
As coach you are hopefully creating a positive team experience — it’s just as much about the team spirit and camaraderie and support as about the results. I very much enjoy teaching tennis, but I love coaching tennis. To me they are very different.
N: It’s fabulous to be on a sports team on Martha’s Vineyard, particularly a winning sports team. After we won the state championships last year — seeing all the community support and outpouring at the ferry — it’s like out of a movie.
L: They have the fire trucks with sirens blaring. It was pretty amazing for us, but for them it is something they will always remember. It makes you love this small community … brings it all together.
Swim coach, ages 7 to 16, YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard
Makos Swim Team at YMCA
I started coaching swimming the year after the YMCA opened, about four years ago now. I have 7-year-olds, up to ages 15 or 16.
Swimming is a sport boys and girls do together. They practice together, but in the meet they are separate. In competition they swim singly, but also as a team: We call it relay — four kids in a team.
It’s been good. Our team has placed top three in championships; they are improving a lot. Now we have winners of high point awards almost every year.
They are competing with the towns Eastham, Marshfield, Nantucket — all off-Island teams.
Basically, they are the same teams that the high school will compete with.
Sometimes I wish the high school would swim with the Makos, but they are separate from us. Their season is November through February, a little shorter than our season.
Childhood Swimming in Indonesia
I started swimming when I was 8 years old in Indonesia, where I grew up. We lived in Jakarta, the capital city. When I was 15, they sent us to California to practice to get ready for the big meet. So we trained in the summertime, as our meet was in September.
They sent me to a coaching academy for a year, and then I stayed to pursue other academic studies. I went to Delaware to a small business college. I met my husband, who was from the Vineyard … that’s how we got here.
U.S. Adult Masters
Yes, I’m still swimming. I swim for the U.S. Adult Masters as part of New England Masters; I just got done with the New England championships. Now I’m getting ready for Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., the end of April.
A Swim Community
I’m trying to build a swim community here on the Island. It’s tough. Nantucket is already ahead, say 20 years, as they’ve had their pool for a long time. That’s why the Vineyard is way behind, since we just got the pool, four years ago now at the YMCA.
Challenges of Coaching
You just have to be motivated. When you get here to the Y, and you are excited, the kids will be excited too. Some kids are really good and want to advance. You just have to keep them interested.
I try to have them do all strokes even though they may be better at one particular stroke — to make a well-rounded swimmer. In competition, I usually put them in the best event that they can do.
Martha’s Vineyard Little League, ages 4 to 12, president and coach
Assistant Coach, Now President
I started coaching Little League about five years ago, as the assistant coach with my daughter’s team. I quickly grew to enjoy coaching, and the following year I was able to be a head coach on my own. I coached a couple years in the minor leagues as a head coach. I became a member of the Little League Board as the information officer, handling the website, which is my background, and I did that for a few years. That led to doing more for Little League and becoming president, for two years now.
250 Kids, Historically as Many as 300
It’s Martha’s Vineyard Little League, so all towns play together. The total number of kids participating is about 250. We’ve had as many as 300 past years.
Anyone 9 or over can try out for Majors; either you make it or you don’t. We want to place the kids where they should be. For Minors, we really try to place the kids with a higher skill level in AAA, those that still need development in AA, so they learn progressively better baseball.
Do the Math
Even with the young kids, I keep statistics, but I don’t let them see it. Keeping my stats — all on spreadsheets — I can look at them to set up my batting order … I noticed that one of the kids who struggled at batting — he’d strike out — had the highest on-base percentage. [I told him,] “Hitting the ball hard is not always the big thing. You are getting on base, and scoring runs.
You are the guy with the best on-base percentage.” I would use it as my teaching tool.
With Majors, winning is a little more forefront. I’m a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance, and their mantra is: “You want to win, that’s normal; but there’s a lot more to it than that.” The Minors is really an instructional league. I stress to coaches: You want to win, but it’s important that everyone get equal playing time, and learn all the positions. They are too young to not get experience in all positions:
We definitely get kids who have never played … you can see the differences. Our coaching staff is pretty good — that’s where our evaluations help us. Everyone plays; as long as they are within the age group, we’ll find a spot for them.
As a coach, when I draft my teams, I want to have a good atmosphere around my team as much as possible. Generally, the parents are also on my mind. I expect the parents to abide by my rules: not barking out, not coaching from the sidelines — the game is hard enough for the kids. For Majors, I do signs for the kids, tell them to bunt … I’ve asked the parents to let us coach on the field. I want the parents as involved as possible. This year I may have four assistant coaches from parents on the team; the more help we have, the more options in practices.
Boys varsity soccer, MV United (Boys and Girls Club)
Girls varsity soccer, MVRHS
Gender and Coaching Style
I’m lucky in that I get to work with both boys and girls Varsity teams during the course of the year. Which do I prefer? I prefer one to the other when I’m working with the one.
I’m not really tougher with [the boys]; I think I used to be — it’s an easy mentality to fall into. People respond well to constructive criticism, coaching positive. Any kind of negativity doesn’t really work in my mind. Toughness can be cross-gender. You might say things in a different tone of voice with young women than with young men. But more and more my coaching style doesn’t change from one gender to the other.
We are trying to teach them, just like in school, aspects of something — in this case it’s soccer. Students are going to respond better when they hear the message, and they’re not worried about how you feel about them, or what you think about them.
Growing and Learning
I’m always learning; every time I step out on the field to coach, there’s something we learn in every experience.
A couple of kids out here just picked up soccer a year or two ago; some have been playing since they were 5 years old. At the end of the day, they are out there playing together. And they are doing well. It’s important to keep that in perspective.
We want to be the best, and we want to challenge them to get the most we can out of them. We need to find ways to inspire them.
A Mini Kicker in Atlanta
I started playing soccer as a mini kicker at 5 years old in Atlanta, where I grew up. It was the only sport I played. Youth soccer took off in the early ’80s, especially in urban areas; it developed fast. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, most people didn’t know what it was, but in Atlanta it was bigtime. A lot of kids played — boys and girls. I played in a very competitive youth league in Atlanta, then played at Augusta College.
Shifting Focus to Coaching
After I moved here, I was playing soccer on the Island, and completely ruptured my ACL in an adult league game. I was 37. That was kind of a moment: Maybe I should slow down.
I was coaching during that time, but not really taking it all that seriously. The accident became the catalyst — the realization that I probably should shift my focus. Instead of playing the game for my personal enjoyment, I could turn to coaching to positively influence the kids, and share my experience with them, hoping they could develop the same passion for the game that I have. That’s when I started to educate myself in coaching. Ever since then, over the past five years I’ve been active, furthering my education coaching the game.
That’s the value of going through the licensing through United States Soccer. I currently hold my C license. [It goes to A.] Next up for me is my B. So I’m on the path.
Coaching Your Own Kids
This is the first time I’ve coached my son; I made that choice. I’ve been coaching other teams for the past four years. I think coaching your child is one of the most challenging things … some people are really good at it. No matter how hard you try, there is a bias; you have to be very careful how that’s managed. It’s a big challenge … it doesn’t even affect me now. I treat him like I do the other players — there’s no distinction. That’s a big progress. He’ll graduate from high school and be gone, and I’ll still be coaching.
My Retirement Plan
It’s my retirement plan — coaching. I can’t be a carpenter forever. Now I coach for the Massachusetts Olympic Development Program. It’s something to have. I’m happy where I am at right now; I may as well educate myself and build my résumé. Twenty years from now, I may want to be a full-time soccer coach.