Behind the Whistle: Finding the Joy


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Amanda Belichick is the head coach of Holy Cross.

I’m not perfect, and neither are my kids or my family. We love each other all the time and try really hard almost all of the time. I write this humbly because I saw SO many parents on the road this summer doing it all, and I was always looking to see what was in the stroller, what snacks they had ready or what accessories they pulled out to keep their kid going for another half of a game.

I have so much respect for everyone who is trying to find a balance because we are all doing our best in that moment. That being said, I brought my kids with me a few times this summer and we had our meltdown moments, but looking back on it now, I am so glad I brought them and so thankful for those memories. Like so many moments in parenting, the long days are quickly forgettable and what we are left with is unconditional love and the memories we create with our families.

When I was growing up, visiting my dad at practice or at his office was impactful and they shaped my future. Those are important memories from my childhood, as they are for many kids who visit their parents’ workplace. Now, as a coach and parent, I want to do for my kids what my dad did for me. But man, taking toddlers anywhere is stressful and at times terrifying! So, bringing my toddler kids recruiting wasn’t on my radar until I decided to just do it. I started with some local high school games, but as I noticed more and more parents with their kids at tournaments, I felt brave and delusionally confident in my parenting skills, and apparently I was ready to take my skills on the road.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who I crossed paths with this summer when Jaycee, 3, and Clarke, 2, were in tow. You were kind to my kids, played with them, engaged them, made them feel welcome and let them be kids. I’m also so grateful for how you treated me when I was trying to be everything. Your knowing looks of “been there” and encouraging words helped. Thank you for being understanding, patient and letting us do our hot-mess thing.

I went to a game in early May with both kids at a field that was just a normal high school stadium. There were big bleachers that you could walk under, and there were a lot of kids there. Pretty quickly, Jaycee and Clarke started exploring, and they were out of sight in no time. Jaycee disappeared about halfway through the second half. My sweet baby Clarke told me she was gone. Jaycee had snuck through a fence under the stands with another little girl into a storage area where they were climbing on football pads and running laps up and down along the bleachers. The hole in the fence was small — an adult wouldn’t fit through. I had immediate flashbacks to being at the Meadowlands as a kid, running around the empty stadium with my brother during a pre-game practice. Dangerous, yes. Safe, yes. With Jaycee, I decided that my options were to be stern and demand that she come out or to try to get her to believe it was her idea to come out and hope that she emerged safely and quickly. I tried them both and neither worked. I wasn’t about to reprimand her in public for something she didn’t know any better than to do or not do. And she really wasn’t doing anything dangerous or wrong, so I let her explore. I trusted her to navigate her limits and hope that she learned and grew from the experience without getting hurt. Thankfully, I didn’t have to regret my decision that day with a trip the emergency room.

As a college coach, I feel like I’m always being observed at recruiting events and rarely go under the radar. With kids, I felt like not only was my professionalism on full display but my parenting was as well. And how professional can we really be when chasing around a 2- and 3-year-old? What am I like as a coach? You can probably watch how I parent and get a pretty good idea.

The real thing that I just can’t stop thinking about after this summer and being with Jaycee so much while I was working is how spontaneous she is and how much I benefit as a person from living in the moment with her.

Jaycee’s personality is exactly like her curly red hair. She is brave, curious and does whatever she wants pretty much all of the time. Life with Jaycee is a constant power struggle where she challenges me, and then right when I reach my breaking point, she leans over and says, “I love you,” backs off and gives me a kiss on the cheek. Figuring out how to maintain some kind of parental authority over her gives me neck spasms. Jaycee seems to absolutely never think about the repercussions of her actions. One of her favorite places to explore are puddles.

I made the bright decision to take Jaycee on a multi-day high school game tour through New Jersey in May where the forecast was nothing but rain. I dressed her up in snow pants, rain boots, a rain jacket, snow gloves and picked up an umbrella and a towel at Target on the way. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about rain pants. Never leave home without them. For two days in May, Jaycee wandered around in her snow pants jumping in puddles while I watched the games. When it was time to leave, we used a Gatorade squirt bottle to rinse the mud off her pants, boots and jacket, laid them out in the back of the car, and we were on our way. She was happy, I was happy ... we picked up dinner at Wawa, went to the hotel and had a great time. Those days I will never forget and will always be grateful for.

Weeks later in July, I made the bold decision to bring Jaycee to Maryland, and with my assistant coach Joelle’s blessing, I booked a ticket for Jaycee on our flight. She was an absolute champ, and with the help of many, crushed her first recruiting tournament. In Jaycee’s top performance of the summer, after the thunderstorms rolled through Saturday afternoon, Jaycee entertained the crowd at the field behind the tennis courts at St. Paul’s. In her fourth outfit of the day, she spent the whole game running, jumping, splashing and living the life we all wish we could live if we didn’t have to think about what happens after we are done in the mud. After the game, Joelle and I rinsed her off with all the half-empty water bottles in our car. I put her in a blanket that I had brought for her to sit on, we picked up dinner on the way home and put her in the shower and then went to bed.

The New Jersey trip was planned and I had my gear ready; in Maryland, things were spontaneous. She asked me if she could jump in the puddle. She was nervous at first. But as soon as Jaycee got the green light, she went for it. And that is the spirit that I hope she never loses and that I can find in myself as well. Like my decision to give her the thumbs up to puddle jump in Maryland, sometimes you have to just go for it ... don’t give ourselves time to think about inconveniences we will face, just go make memories. Make memories when things aren’t perfect and easy. Embrace those moments when they present themselves. I know this is always easier said than done, and as a working mom, I find my opportunities more limited to do these things. This summer, I used my work trips as excuses to bring my shadow along.

Go for it; do things that make you happy and that you will remember as great days and great moments. Don’t worry about what happens next. During that game, super mom and head coach at Boston University Lauren Morton said something to me that I will never forget. She said that we need more kids like that who would just go jump in a puddle and have a great time, and it’s true. We need to be less stressed. Worry less. Have fun. Jump in puddles. LOVE what we are doing. If someone told you that you could jump in a puddle, would you? I didn’t jump in with Jaycee that day, and honestly, I regret it. Jaycee would have been so happy. She wanted me to — she asked me to. I dipped my toe in, and I let her splash me with her jumps. But what would have happened if I was all in with her?

What happens when we live spontaneously? Follow our instincts and do what feels right? We grow, and our relationships grow. What happens when we do what is best for our family, friends, team and not worry about what we are “supposed to do” or “expected to do?” As coaches and leaders, we are on the inside, we know what is best and we are responsible for knowing the pulse of the team. Listen to your people — listen to your kids and then empower them to leap. Would we all be better? Something I’ve been trying to give a lot of thought to is why I do what I do with my team — because it is our normal? Because it works? Because it’s just what we do? If routine and habit are the answers, I try to challenge them. That doesn’t mean that it has to change, but it could. Is there a different way that would give us a different benefit?

What would happen if instead of practicing for an extra 15 minutes in the rain we spent that time jumping in puddles? Would the team even do it? If you’re already wet, and your Gatorade water bottles are there, you could just rinse off, and all you’d be left with would be the memories of that freedom to explore, play and let go.

As I start another school year, Lauren Morton’s words continue to run through my head with the image of my free-spirited Jaycee getting a running start and jumping into that puddle in Maryland. Are you someone who does things that you love? Am I? Do you play lacrosse with joy? Do you celebrate the amazing things that are accomplished on the field? If a loose ball is your puddle, do you get excited to pick it up? Why do YOU do what you do?

Joy and energy are contagious, as we all know. Find joy in what you do, and let it be infectious. Reward joy! Jump in puddles! You may be surprised to find who follows.

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