March 7, 2014

Six Lessons I’ve Learned from Running a Youth Sports Organization

As I come up on my 3rd anniversary of being Co-President of a USA Swimming aquatic club, I’ve learned many lessons. Although there have been a lot of great times, some of these lessons have been hard ones to learn. I’ve learned a lot about the nature of people, some good things and some bad things. I’ve learned that every situation has two sides to the story: the accurate story, and the one that will told by people who don’t like you or your decisions. Some of the toughest lessons I’ve learned involve my kids, and how they’ll be treated by others who are only concerned with themselves, and/or disagree with the club’s direction. It’s been a fun ride, for the most part, as this board, the coaches and I have worked to grow our club’s success and create a lasting team culture. Some of the lessons I’ve learned are ones that could help others lead youth sports organizations, so I’d like to share.

1. Not everyone is going to like you. Learn to deal with it.

“I can not give you the surefire formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” -Herbert B. Swope

For every 10 new friends I’ve made running this swimming club (and I’ve made a lot of wonderful new friends), I’ve probably made an enemy or two. It’s never been intentional. It’s just that, for the most part, many adults do not like to read or follow rules. While the people who dislike me can complain all they want about whatever their issue is of the day, the one thing they can’t do is accuse me, or our board, of being inconsistent. We have worked tirelessly to create policies that protect the club and its swimmers and coaches; and lay the ground rules for our business practices. The other night a Mom approached me and told me that her swimmer just wasn’t into it anymore. She said she’d like a refund. I politely told her, “no.” She was shocked to hear this word. However, she signed the paperwork that says there are no refunds, except for documented medical reasons or a family relocation. She immediately acted angry with me, and went off to complain to another parent. To them, I’m Maleficent. To me, I’m a volunteer parent President who took on the duty of protecting the club’s best interests, including the financial interests. Policies and procedures are really important to have and to follow, which leads me to my next lesson.

2. No matter how many policies and procedures you have, there’s always going to be someone who tries to twist the words or the meanings to make them something they are not. Get an outsider’s opinion and help.

Recently, we had an incident at our club that forced us to take a good, hard look at our policies and procedures for dealing with violations of our Code of Conduct. As a writing student in college, my professors used to tell me to write something and put it away. They said to always look at your writing with fresh eyes. Sometimes, when you’ve been staring at a policy for three years, all looks good.  Sometimes those “fresh eyes” need to come from someone else. So, we did what made sense. One of our swim parents is a lawyer and we asked him to sit down with us and take a look at our documents, waivers, etc. He didn’t just take a look. He dug in and revised documents for future registrations. He identified weaknesses that we hadn’t seen before. And he didn’t just tell us about it; he got to work revising. He has become our volunteer legal adviser and he’s taken a lot of the pressure off of the board, just by being available to consult with us. Tap the resources that are available to you within your group of parents. It never hurts to ask, and most of the time, people are happy to help.

3. Delegate and put it back on those who suggest it.

There are some things that can’t be delegated, so take care of those things. But whatever you can delegate to reliable people, do. Last year, the woman who was making all of our holiday party and banquet plans offered to join our board as a Vice President. We jumped at the opportunity to bring her on board. There are so many people who have suggestions for things with the club; but one thing we’ve learned is it bat it back to the person who suggested the change and see what time they’re willing to put in to making things happen. We have some parents whose swimmers wants to stay with the club through high school. Recently, I asked one of these parents to research what other clubs offer for high school swimmers. She was more than happy to do the research and report back, and I was happy to get the help. Then there are those who love to share their ideas and tell you all the things you should be doing, but wouldn’t lift a finger to help get it going. Let their criticism fall on deaf ears (refer back to #1). Focus on the important stuff and don’t take on too many side projects, especially those suggested by people not willing to help. But if someone is willing to take a lead on an idea that would benefit the club, you’ve just found yourself another volunteer. And that is always a good thing.

4. Team Culture is EVERYTHING!

There’s one at every club. . . a parent who is all about their own child and could care less about anyone else. They attend no team functions. They don’t care about what the other swimmers at the club are doing (unless they’re beating their own kid). They feel that practices should revolve around their kid, and that no one else matters. They don’t congratulate other swimmers on a job well done. They never volunteer to do anything, ever. These are the “black holes” that suck energy from your team culture. So what can you do about it? Not much during the peak of your season. However, you can focus on those contributing to the team culture and try to get everyone on board. But if that doesn’t work, and you’re a private club, you can make decisions about future enrollment. Have you ever heard the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team?” Have you also heard the one that says, “I found the ‘i” in ‘team.’ It’s in the “A” hole”? It’s very true. Promote the team culture all you can. But those who don’t buy in. . . can find another team. Don’t be afraid to drop in numbers initially if the long term pay-off will be a solid team culture and more committed families/athletes down the road. After a small exodus of “black holes” last year, our club came back bigger and stronger than ever before. It’s a calculated risk worth taking.

5. Listen to what people are telling you.

We recently had try-outs for our Spring session at our club. One parent was going on and on about how her swimmer only wanted to do a “clinic,” that attending a meet would be out of the question, that they would not be coming back next year because they were only looking for a quick fix and stroke work heading into the summer. You’re not going to convert people like this into committed ones. It doesn’t happen. Don’t clog up lanes to raise numbers if you don’t have to. A club should benefit an athlete, but the athlete should also benefit the club by being a team player, following the club’s vision/mission, and truly wanting to be a part of the team culture. If they’re not, say goodbye before it starts, and leave that space for someone committed to the team ideals.

6. Don’t get caught looking backwards.

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” 

One of the most important things a youth sports board should do, is focus on the future. Provide opportunities to educate your coaches. Look for ways to improve the club, grow the club (if you can’t grow numbers, grow your competitiveness), and make people want to be a part of the forward motion. Change is always hard; but it’s necessary if you want to move forward. After a couple years of general team malaise, our club has taken off. In virtual championship rankings, we went from barely making the top half to being the top third. Our national ranking moved up over 300 spots; within our LSC, we moved up almost 30 spots, and we continue to rise. Our numbers are strong and our kids continue to improve. As a club board, that’s all you can really ask for. But you’re only going to continue to rise if you’re focused on the future.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”-Tony Robbins.

Truer words were never spoken.

Are you part of a parent youth sports board? What lessons have you learned?

 

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January 16, 2014

On the Verge of Cyber School

I taught for five years, so I never wanted to be THAT parent. . . the complaining one. But lately, my concerns feel like they’re bubbling over, under pressure, to the point of explosion. In fact, it’s getting so bad that I, the person who swore I would NEVER consider it, am actually starting to research home-schooling and cyber schooling. Former public school teachers don’t usually go there. This one is about ready to go directly there.

Let’s start with the gym teacher. He’s the typical male middle school gym teacher, also the head football coach. I’m told by many parents that my kid just needs to get through his units. I had hoped for better than that. We pay a lot of school taxes. He’s the type of coach from the Grease movie, the one who drives the golf cart around sitting on his unfit butt, while he yells at the kids to do things their growing bodies shouldn’t be doing. Swim Girl has had to suffer through her second year of him this year. Last year, she ended up with a knee injury and months of physical therapy. Mind you, her injury didn’t result from her year-round swimming, but rather from gym class. Take a second to chew on that.

This year, this “teacher” (I use the term lightly) has had them doing a muscle “endurance” unit involving resistance bands. That’s all fine and good if the bands are the proper resistance and if he’s insuring that the kids are using proper form. However, neither of those two things are happening. This week, just days before her LSC Elite Meet, she has a giant knot in her shoulder muscle, resulting from his carelessness and lack of proper instruction and supervision. Both her coach and her PT were shocked at the obvious trauma to the muscle.

I don’t EVER do this, but today I wrote an email to him. I was extremely polite, and told him I would like her to avoid doing any exercises that could further injure her shoulder until . I told him that both her swim coaches and her trainer/PT told her she has a knot in her muscle and that she should avoid aggravating it any further. I offered to send in a lighter resistance band for her if he doesn’t have a light enough one. I avoided chastising him about the fact that when my daughter asked him for a study guide today, he barked at her “get it later” despite the fact that she was in gym class right THEN; and asking for a study guide would imply that she actually cares about learning and would like to study. The reply I got from him makes my freaking blood boil. There is absolutely ZERO concern for her health and well-being from her so-called “wellness” teacher. There was nothing other than a terse response, a statement to tell me that “the unit is now over” (because I guess that’s supposed to make me feel better), and then incorrect usage of the word “suffice.”I don’t know which part annoys me more. I was an English teacher; it’s probably the “suffice” part.

In the past month, my daughter has waited almost a month each time she takes a math test to get her grade back. It’s difficult to learn from your mistakes when they’re not even fresh in your head anymore. This, mind you, is AFTER Mr. BBM and I have had a conference with him.  Another teacher has spent class time talking about murderers and rapists and how if they get a good lawyer, they’ll likely get off and get away with it. Nice. And yet another teacher has told her about how her father held a gun to her baby sister’s head when she was a kid. Because that is totally school appropriate. I’d LOVE to call them all out on all of this stuff, but I also know what that could mean for how my kid is treated the rest of the year. I have no expectation of professionalism when these are the daily occurrences.

I live in the district that has the highest test scores in the county, that does quite well when compared to other schools in the state and country; and here I am, seriously considering pulling my kid out of school. I was (and am with Sassy) so happy with the elementary school. I was even happy with the first year of Middle School. Is this year just a fluke? Do we just have “to get through it”? Will it get better? I thought being in the Gifted program would change things a bit. I thought she would be academically challenged. Instead she has read over 1400 pages this quarter (none of it at home) because she finishes everything early in school and has nothing to do.

The only thing holding me back from pulling her now is her art teacher, who happens to be amazing. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to ignore the inappropriate things that are happening in her school. I send my 12-year-old into their care every day; and I do not appreciate them discussing things in class that I would never consider discussing in front of her at home. If you’ve decided to home school or cyber school, I want to hear from you, and I want to hear all about it.

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November 26, 2013

When Bryan Adams Replied to my Tweet and My Inner 80′s Chick Swooned

When my friend asked me to go to the Bryan Adams concert with her, I was beside myself with excitement. I spent many summers of the 80′s, sitting in the shade of our birch tree, blasting my Bryan Adams cassettes as loud as they would go. I may not be able to remember much I learned in school during those early years, but I recall every word of his songs. It’s funny how you don’t even know those lyrics are there, sitting dormant in your brain, until the song comes on and you’re right there, back in your childhood. It’s amazing, music’s ability to take you back to a much simpler time. The feeling that washes over your body and soul when you hear certain songs is like no other.

The concert on Sunday night was like that. My friends and I met for dinner, and we realized that our dessert conversation had lasted a bit long. After reading reviews of his “Bare Bones” concert online, I knew he was going to start with “Run to You,” so that’s pretty much what we did, from the parking lot to the theater. We ran to him. I wasn’t going to miss it.

Our local paper reviewed the concert and started off with the line, “Bryan Adams’ show Sunday night in Reading reminded him of cat pee.” Really? That’s the best opening you could come up with for the concert review?? Because the show reminded me of a simpler time, when singer/songwriters wrote songs about love that people could relate to and fall in love with. It struck me, while listening to his songs, that people don’t really write like that anymore. Love songs have really changed, and not for the better. Bryan Adams would never write a song about “twerking.” He seemed personable, humorous and completely down-to-Earth; he’s someone you’d like to sit down with and share a cup of coffee. Our local paper also said he imitated Bruce Springsteen. I’m thinking the reporter may have been a bit off his game, because he made it pretty clear he was impersonating Blake Shelton, not Bruce. Can I be the new concert reviewer, please?

Dressed simply and with a “no frills” black curtain backdrop with a projected skeleton in the background, Bryan Adams got the spirited crowd going from the start, his voice flawless in delivery. The man hasn’t missed a beat in all these years. With only a piano backing him up at times, the sound was still full and vibrant. The songs were delivered the way they were originally written. There were even a couple crazy 80′s girls there, screaming out to Bryan, “Can I get your number?” and making strange and inappropriate innuendo statements about “Summer of ’69.” My friends and I were busy rolling our eyes about those girls when Adams asked for a female volunteer, “a wild woman” who could dance.

It was an out-of-body experience as my comments about others suddenly turned into me standing straight up, waving wildly. I’m nothing if not a wild woman, and this girl can dance. And in fact, from previous posts, you all know my dream is to be a back-up dancer. So I stood there in the balcony, waving my arms and yelling out, “Bryan-UP HERE!” I had on what my sister refers to as my “Aerosmith pants.” I mean, how could I not be chosen? In the end, he chose a girl on the floor in the first couple of rows. I’m going with the fact that it was super dark in the balcony. I mean he probably couldn’t see me right?

Confirmed.

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If you are a fan of Bryan Adams and he’s coming to a city near you, you absolutely MUST go. He played so many of the classics that probably made you fall in love with him. It is a night out you won’t soon forget!

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November 14, 2013

The Justin Timberlake Hangover

When Mr. BBM suggested we go to the JT concert for our anniversary, I was kind of surprised. I had imagined a weekend away, somewhere quiet, where we could catch up on sleep. Exciting, I know. But with a 12, 8 and 2-year old in the house, quiet and sleep are two things that are in short supply.

I spent weeks planning my outfit for the occasion. I haven’t had a night out in a big city in a long time. Clearly all the other chicks there thought high black boots were the way to go too. At least I knew I was still somewhat “with it.”

So we went to the concert and had an amazing time. There’s something about being a woman and knowing you’re breathing the same air as JT. It is instantly exhilarating. I couldn’t help thinking as I screamed, “Oh My GOD, he’s coming right here!” that perhaps this is not what Mr. BBM had in mind for our anniversary. Me, him and JT. . . and me screaming with utter joy when the stage began to move and he got closer to us by the minute. I left that concert completely “love-stoned.” No joke. Minus the beer-soaked jacket thanks to some klutzy girl sitting behind me, it was a night I won’t soon forget.

But instead of just enjoying the concert, there was this nagging feeling deep inside. I should have pursued a career in the music industry. I should have been a performer’s manager. I should have been a back-up dancer. Heck, I’ll be the girl that stands on the side of the stage and hands the man water when he needs it.

We spent the night in Philly and came home to our three awesome kids. Little Man followed me around 24/7 and kept hugging me and kissing me. Parting so I could go to the bathroom was almost too much for him. The girls picked up right where they left off with the sibling rivalry and non-stop arguments. Mr. BBM and I couldn’t help but look at each other occasionally and mouth, “let’s go back.” We rarely get a minute, let alone a night, to ourselves. It truly was amazing.

Days later though, as I drop off the dry-cleaning and pick up ingredients needed for dinner, organize Little Man’s toys and go about the business of laundry, the feeling lingers. It’s clearly a JT hangover. The concert was incredible and I can only imagine how cool it would be to be a part of it, day after day, night after night. Can you imagine what it would feel like to be a part of putting on that production? To be a dancer within feet of such an incredible celebrity? To be one of the behind the scenes people who makes it all happen?

Swim Girl and I were having a conversation in the car the other night about it. “Do you wish you were doing something different?” she asked me. It’s a tough question to answer. I think every stay-at-home mom who made the choice to put career aside for her kids would jump at the opportunity to do something extravagant, to go on a worldwide tour. I’ve been thinking about my choice a lot lately. There are things we’d like to do with our house, places we’d like to travel, but we can’t right now. I would never want anyone else raising my kids. We’ve certainly made the sacrifices so that I can be home when they get home from school, so that none of them ever had to go to a daycare setting. But it also meant putting aside the dream of being a big-time magazine editor or writer, navigating the streets of NYC with ease. Also, that whole dream of being the next Madonna, but better and without the gladiator boob contraptions.

So I have it all figured out. JT needs to hire and train me as a back-up dancer (social media genius or even as security!). I’ll need a bus all my own, equipped with enough beds for my family, and internet access so Mr. BBM can work from the road. I also need a nanny. I’ll home school the kids during the day; we’ll travel the world and consider that a year-long field trip. At night, I’ll pop my strawberry bubblegum on stage while my kids chill in the trailer watching Disney movies or finish up their homework. Yep, I’ll be “That Girl,” the one who has it all. Who says I can’t?

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September 24, 2013

Useless

The other night, we took my Mom out for dinner for her birthday. My sister, Mom and I went for manicures and then waited at the bar of the restaurant for the rest of our crew to show up. We got in a conversation and somehow, my volunteer position as the President of my daughters’ swim club came up.

“Yeah, you should quit that,” my sister said.  ”Little Man is little and he needs you.”

“He gets me,” I protested. “It’s a lot of work, but I do it at home and it’s not like Little Man is being neglected.”

It wasn’t the comment that bothered me, as much as the fact that my Mom and sister had clearly had discussions about how my volunteer position should be eliminated. This is my third year as Co-President along with Mr. BBM of a thriving USA swimming club. In one year, we moved up almost 400 spots nationally. We added 15 more kids to our roster this year and had to turn many away because we simply don’t have the lane space. This past summer, we had enough swimmers in attendance at Junior Olympics to have relays in three age groups. And the relays did well. Twelve of our girls came home with medals; two of our swimmers made the Zones team. In the relatively short time of our tenure, we made major changes to our staff, applied for and received 501c3 status in less than six weeks (which our accountant says is virtually unheard of), and frankly, I’m just getting started.

What bothered me is that it was implied that because there’s no payment for what I do, there’s no value. I disagree.

Yes, I sometimes complain about all the work because there is a LOT. OF. WORK. I spend a minimum of 40 hours per week updating our website, sending out emails, sending in meet entries, and doing things to make our club a better place to swim. I’m tireless in my efforts; and yes, I sometimes get very frustrated with circumstances and people. Because OH. MY. GOD. can people be a pain in the butt sometimes.

But when I’m at the pool, and I see our coaching staff working together so well, and I see our swimmers achieving things they wrote on their goal sheets at the beginning of the year, it makes it all worth it. Every. Single. Moment.

Worth it.

Selfishly, I want this club to be the most amazing place to swim in a 100 mile radius for my kids. I want college coaches to take notice of the swimmers we’re churning out.  I’ll stop at nothing to make it that way. But the pay-off is that this year, we have 99 swimmers that are benefiting from our amazing coaches. These 99 kids are all “my kids” in so many ways. Their successes and achievements are my successes and achievements. And just because there’s no payment for what I do doesn’t mean that it’s useless or lacking value.  I do what I do because it’s a labor of love.

And it’s worth it. . . for my kids and for every other kid who swims at our club.

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