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Just take a second, think about everyone and anyone that has been in your life. I’m sure numerous names and faces come to mind. Now think again, but this time picture that one person that stands out. If you are able to pick just one person out of everyone in your life, then chances are good that person has had a major impact. It’s not easy to see the change while you’re going through it, but after that person is no longer around, you know some changes occurred. That person becomes unforgettable because transformation is everlasting. That is why Mandy, my lacrosse coach, came to mind.
When I shared this information with a friend she questioned my choice, “Why? You’ve only had her for one year. That can’t be enough time to make an impact.” There isn’t a time limit on how long it takes for someone to make an impact: It only takes one second, one moment to change a person’s life. One never knows when someone will come along, just another face passing by making a difference in the life of another; maybe without even realizing it.
Lacrosse caught my eye back in seventh grade. I went to a varsity game with my friend, Caitlin, to help cheer on her older sister Marissa. I was amazed by this sport; it was unlike any other I had ever watched. I turned to Caitlin, trying to yell over the loud fans all around us, “I have to play this in high school!” I continued to watch the girls running up and down the field, ball zooming in the air from one stick to the next. I found excitement in seeing each player taking turns in letting the ball get lost in the pocket of one player after another, as they quickly dodged others around them.
Finally, ninth grade came around and I was ready to play. At the same time I was extremely nervous, because I had only picked up a lacrosse stick a week before tryouts. At tryouts, I tried my best to do the things I remembered Larissa and her team doing a few years before. I imitated the older girl’s passing techniques and quickly caught on. I stepped one foot forward, leaving the other one planted on the ground. Then I held my stick behind me at my shoulders and quickly swung it forward; sending the ball into the air, ending in my partner’s stick. I continued to practice the fundamentals of lacrosse for the rest of the week. After a hard week’s worth of tryouts were over I got on the junior varsity team. I continued the season on junior varsity participating in the practices that became easier and easier as the weeks went on. Eventually, I gained confidence in knowing that I was one of the better ones on the team.
The season blew by, it was the final week of practice and games, and something unexpected happened. I got pulled aside at our last practice by the varsity coach. I thought that maybe I did something wrong but instead she said, “I’ve been watching you over the course of the season and I believe you have a great deal of potential. How would you like to come practice with us the rest of the week and join us for playoffs?” I couldn’t believe it. She had only asked two other players from my team. I repeated her words over and over again in my mind, “I believe you have a great deal of potential…” This was the first time that I believed that I really had a future with this sport. This was only the beginning of the impact that Mandy had made in my life.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year, when I made the varsity team, that I got a full dose of Mandy. I didn’t know her as well as some of the older players that had a full year or two with her already. I did have a little sense of what she was like from my one week on varsity the previous year, but that wasn’t enough time for me to fully understand Mandy. I already knew this would be a challenge, varsity practiced much harder and longer than the junior varsity team. I also knew that Mandy was a tougher coach; therefore I was intimidated and nervous to see how I’d end up doing on the team.
I would never be the player that I am today if I didn’t have the discipline and push that she gave me. She developed my ever growing passion for lacrosse by pushing my everyday and refusing to let me do any worst then my best. After a hard day of school at the end of the year many people were beginning to get lazy. Our warm-ups gradually become shorter while we began to go slower. Coaches notice when the team begins to get sluggish, especially our coach. Many people didn’t enjoy Mandy’s constant yelling to us. Some of her commands were, “Work hard, push yourself,” and “I know you can do better!” Many of us just thought to ourselves and sometimes out loud to each other, “Stop nagging us. We don’t want to hear it anymore.” There were days when I felt that Mandy was only yelling at me, that I wasn’t running hard or getting low enough, and those were the days that I just wanted to walk away from the field because I was sick of hearing it.
After one long, frustrating day of practice when I wanted to give up, Mandy came to me and had the right thing to say, “Bird, you worked hard today, but I know you can do better. I push you because I have confidence in you. If I didn’t yell at you, it would mean that I don’t think there’s hope for you. If you continue to work how you have been with the same drive, then I definitely think you could move onto college lacrosse.” After those words left her mouth I regretted thinking that I wanted to quit or that she was nagging me. From that day on I knew I had to stay motivated and push myself to become stronger, faster, and better, for the good of my own game as well as my team’s.
I continued to push myself every day for every practice and every game. Some days I felt smaller and weaker and much worse than others. Mandy, being the intuitive and caring coach that she was, saw that something was wrong. She was able to read me and see what it was. So of course she did what she always did, she found a way to pick me back up again. At the end of practice as I was beginning to walk toward my ride he pulled me aside, in her hands was a stack of papers. I looked at her puzzled but she knew what she was doing.
“Do you see these names? Look right next to them at their numbers. That is how tall they are! This is the women’s USA team, and the average height for this team is 5’3. I know there are times when you feel smaller than everyone else but I’ve been coaching you for awhile now and your faster and have more skills than countless bigger players I’ve seen and coached. I want you to keep these papers and whenever you’re feeling bad about your size, you look at these girls because you’re just as strong as them. If you continue to work as hard as you do then there’s no doubt that you could work up to the USA team too. You may be small, but you play big.”
Standing next to Mandy, carefully hearing each word leave her mouth made me feel bigger and stronger than I ever have before. Lacrosse was a game where my size didn’t matter. I just had to continue to work hard and then maybe I could take the next step. Reading the list of names and heights: 5’2, 5’1, 5’4, etc. amazed me. My confidence sky rocketed that day, and from then on I haven’t thought of my size as an issue.
As the end of a hard working, well achieved season of lacrosse rolled around, I was feeling good about life and lacrosse. I thought we’d play a few more games, have a few more practices and then we were done for a whole year. Mandy had a different idea, she wasn’t finished with me yet. Once again I was asked to stay after practice with three other players on my team: Mariah, Erin, and Sarah. She said out of everyone on the team, we were the top four and were chosen to participate in the Vermont All-Star team. Me? As an all star? That seemed crazy! I never even heard of the team before that, but I was so excited that I immediately accepted. The days went by and it got closer to the all-star day. I was getting more and more nervous as I knew the participants were all the best in the state and I didn’t know if I could compete with them. The day finally came around and only one other person from my team showed up. This made me even more nervous now that I knew even less people. As we got there we got into our two all-star teams that were mixed with players from all over Vermont. As we began to practice I began to sweat and my heart was beating quickly. I wasn’t sure if I could make it through a whole day. Then as the end of practice it was game time. Suddenly, everything that Mandy had ever said to me came rushing into my mind. She said I had potential, just as much skill and speed as anyone else, and lastly I remembered that I wouldn’t be there if she hadn’t believed in me in the first place. I went out on the field and sprinted for loose balls, caught everything that came at me, and sent my players accurate passes. Each skill that Mandy had taught me came together on that all-star field. I left everything I had on that field, but I also left having more faith in my ability.
Lacrosse wouldn’t be the sport that it is for me today if it weren’t for the coaching from Mandy. She stuck by her belief in me, and the talent and ability she saw from the beginning. Not once did she doubt or give up on me. I became a motivated player with a passion for the sport from being pushed the entire time. I wasn’t used to a coach with discipline, enthusiasm, and motivation like Mandy. Every step that she took to make me a better player has made me want to continue with this sport for many years to come. I’m going to go out this year, ready for a new season, ready to show her that she had made a difference in my life. I want to make her proud and show her that she did the right thing. Instead of staying where I’m at, I’m going to spend the rest of my time with lacrosse by trying to reach the bar that she set for me.
Now that I look back of all the people I could have written about I am glad that I made the decision that I did. Mandy has impacted my life in ways that most other people wouldn’t have accomplished. I was lucky to find someone that was able to influence me in the many ways that she did. Mainly, she taught me that it’s not about staying where I’m at now, but for always reaching higher.