Is There a Difference Between Raising Toddlers and Coaching College Lacrosse?

By Jen O’Brien, Head Coach, Virginia Commonwealth University  @VCU_Lacrosse

2013 proved to be quite a banner year for me both personally and professionally.

Within two months I had experienced three major life changes. I was married in June of that year, became a first time head coach of a new program in July, and moved to a new city in August.

          Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics.

The first morning in my new apartment, in my new city, I also found out I was expecting my first child. Make that four massive life changes.

Fast forward to today – another house, another daughter, 36 crazy Rams, a few wins, and a ton of memories later – I think I have (semi) figured out how to balance building a family and a lacrosse program simultaneously.

Coincidentally, I have found that raising young children and coaching 18-21-year-old student-athletes have a surprising number of similarities:

  1. The Bodily Fluids – I’m talking tears, boogers, vomit, and multiple bathroom visits – and this is all before practice even starts. After thousands of diapers and thousands of hours of practice, I have absolutely seen and touched it all. Blood, sweat, and tears have nothing on me.
  2. The “Whys” – As a mom and a coach I should appreciate the word “why?” It means I have inquisitive minds surrounding and challenging me, while learning in their own right. But, no. The word “why” might be the bane of my existence. I am certainly more understanding when my college players ask “why,” as we do actually encourage them to question things, but after hearing “that word” 30 times before 8:00am every morning, the mere thought of another question makes me cringe.
  3. The Sleepless Nights – It is the first thing you are told when you find out you are expecting a baby, it usually precedes “congratulations.” Yes, I know, I will never sleep again. As coaches we also realize our schedules don’t fully allow for a normal sleep pattern. Whether it is a 6:00am practice, or a late night/early morning post-game arrival, sleep is a luxury many coaches are not afforded. While I knew all of this was a part of both worlds, I never knew the constant worrying for any of my players would keep me up as much as it does. I waste more time day-dreaming about a peaceful night of sleep than actually getting one.
  4. The Yelling – I will never pretend to be a Mom that doesn’t yell. I don’t have time to calmly explain to my one-year-old why putting my iPhone in the full bath tub is not a good idea. Same goes for lacrosse. I realized early in my head coaching career that 30+ college players responded a little differently to me red-faced, yelling, “get on the end line,” versus me politely asking them to run as long as I felt necessary, if that was ok with them. When managing a family and a team, there is no time to waste getting to your point, and the volume certainly helps.
  5. The Laughs – Oh my goodness. I thought I knew true laughter but that all changed when I had children and surrounded myself with college students every single day. It could be at my expense, but the stomach-aching, tears-streaming, silent laughs make up for everything and really take me back to the fun I shared with my own college teammates. For a moment, nothing is wrong in your life, the only thing that matters is the feeling you have with those laughing with (or at) you!
  6. The Honesty – Whether I am being told my make-up isn’t really making me pretty or having my team informing me that they knew I was pregnant again because my hips were wider – there is no one that will be more honest with you than your children and your players. They are my mirror, on both my good days and bad days. I see in them what they see in me, whether I want to or not. Talk about self-reflection.
  7. The Disappointments – The highs are high and the lows are really flipping low. When you go through disappointments with someone, there is a certain bond that is formed. Winning only three games in our first Division I season was quite a disappointment, but the connection that first group has is unlike any bond I have seen. Not to mention, it is fun to look back now at how terrible it actually was (and experience more of the laughter I mentioned in number 5).
  8. The Pride – The pride I have in all of my “kids,” biological or not, is something that makes my heart and eyes swell. I have never cried more proud tears than when my oldest daughter began pre-school; she wiped her own tears and walked into her classroom by herself, never looking back though I know she ached to. And then, to top that, I received a text from a player that said if my three-year-old could suck it up and walk into pre-school on her own, she too could suck it up and walk into a tough anatomy exam. Cue more tears.
  9. Threats and Bribing (legal) – In a typical day, I make more threats, most of them empty, to my three-year old, than I speak words to my husband. Before I had my two daughters I told myself that I would never bribe my children (as well as strictly banning iPads, TV time or refined sugar) … that all lasted about five minutes. With two daughters and 36 college athletes, the ability to use apparel as a bribe is literally one of the only things that keeps me borderline in control of them all.
  10. The Love – The LOVE! All of the love! I have been fortunate to experience a love like no other by being a mom and coach. The lengths I would go to for any of my kids are immeasurable. My mom always told me that as a mother, you are only as happy as your most unhappy child. I found it is the same with my team. I will do anything to make sure my players are happy and know they are loved unconditionally. The amount of times I say “love” in any given day far exceeds any yelling, threats, or “whys” combined. How lucky am I?!

I can honestly say I am a better coach because of my daughters and a better mom because of my players. They drive me crazy to be the best role model I can be and I am so appreciative of that. One day, I hope they realize just how much they have given me and can do the same for even just one other person.


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