It’s Fall and in the Dixon house, that means it’s soccer season! A few years ago, I somehow started coaching. It was one of those things where someone is asking for volunteers, and no one is stepping up, and your head is saying, “No way, no how, not possible, you’re crazy…” and yet, before you know it, your hand is up in the air. And every season I think I’ve totally lost it, and how can I possibly, with four active kids with four separate schedules AND a job AND my writing AND, well, LIFE…how can I possibly sign up to coach again? But all it takes is a stroll across our elementary school campus to change my mind once again. I can’t resist when I have girls running up to high-five me, or yelling, “Hi Coach Amy!” across the blacktop, or telling me how they practiced their juggling with their mom over the weekend. There’s just something about that title…COACH…that is so significant for me. And the crazy part is, it actually has very little to do with soccer.
Yes, I teach these girls soccer. We work on technique. And ball control. They learn positions. But most of what we learn are things that translate off of the soccer field. I tell my girls every year that I don’t care about winning, and their jaws (and their parents’) drop to the ground. Now don’t get me wrong, of course it feels better in the moment to walk away with a win. But my ultimate goal, in each and every game, is to be a little bit better than we were the game before. My oldest daughter is a huge volleyball fan and we both love this quote by Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Each practice we focus on one skill. And in the game that week, I remind them what we worked on. And if I see the girls actually doing the thing we worked on in the game, then I am a happy coach. Win or lose.
The other thing you’ll hear when you play for Coach Amy is, “There are only 2 things in a soccer game that you have complete control over. Your attitude and your effort.” When it comes to sports, there are so many things in a game you can’t control. You can’t change the calls the referee makes or how dirty the other team plays. But you can control how hard you work, and how you respond to those things. And let’s be honest, great attitudes result in a lot more fun for everyone. If my girls walk off the field feeling proud of their attitude and effort, then we’ve won, no matter the score.
So this past Saturday, after a 1-1 tie, I told my girls I was proud of them, because while we didn’t win, I saw our defense clearing the ball to the outside (Tuesday’s practice) and our offense using the entire width of the field (Thursday’s practice). I asked them if they gave 100%, and if they had fun. The answer was YES and for me, that’s a win. That night, as my thoughts turned from soccer to writing, I realized that sometimes in order to enjoy the journey to publication, we need to think like a coach.
If we were to count our wins only as offers of publication, our loss record would be so overwhelming, we’d never step foot on the field again. We need to measure success differently. What if our goals were more incremental, more about growth than about the end result? And what if we stopped judging ourselves in comparison to other writers’ successes, but like Kerri Walsh Jennings, just strived to be better than we are right now?
This week, I’m working on a 300-word historical nonfiction picture book. I’ve had the idea for a long time, but this project scares me to death, because I’ve never written nonfiction before and to try to boil history down to 300 words is completely insane. But I made myself sit down and write it because I wanted to push myself into new territory. And my goal for this week is to make three of the stanzas better by strengthening my verb choices. I just checked and found that these three stanzas are 45 words total. My goal is to edit 45 words! That’s it. And if I am able to do it, it will be a success I will celebrate like a win because to accomplish it means I’m growing as a writer. I will be better than I was last week.
There really are so many things in the publishing world we cannot control. But we do have complete and total control over our attitude and effort. Work hard. Be polite and professional. And don’t worry so much about the things we can’t change. Agents not responding to your work? Get a form rejection after a request for a full? Feel like the ref made a bad call? Throwing a hissy-fit on the field will do nothing but get you thrown out of the game. It will not change their ruling. We need to shake it off and move on. Control our response. Don’t take ourselves so seriously! A player who is having fun on the field is someone that other people want to play with.
So let’s start thinking like a coach!
Set yourself goals to grow, and when you see that growth, celebrate the win.
Publication does not equal success…growth equals success.
Don’t go crazy over the things you can’t control.
Give 100%, push yourself as a writer. Be better than you were last week.
HAVE FUN on the field…
…and don’t forget to high-five Coach Amy along the way!