In James Paul Gee’s book, “Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses,” he discusses the social context of ‘discourses’ and relates it to being at a biker bar. In this analogy, he discusses how in social context the focus is not in what you say, but in how you say it. Instantly when I read this I thought of the scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when he walks in the biker bar to make a phone call. I also thought of the scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but Pee Wee seemed more appropriate for all audiences.
I experienced a biker bar moment not even a year ago when I first started coaching girls high school basketball. I have coached high school boys basketball seven years, and decided to make a change to take the opportunity to coach with my wife, Michelle, who is the Varsity girls basketball coach at Wethersfield High School.
I can remember the first day of practice, walking in with my new Under Armour polo and pants, new sneakers, and same swagger that I always have when I coach. I pride myself on being a confident person in everything that I do, because it fuels the people around me and motivates me to be at my best at all times. I had my fresh hair cut and shave from the day before, ready to make a big first impression on the team.
Several young men who have played for me have played and are playing college sports, and tell me to this day that if it wasn’t for how hard I pushed them it would have been very difficult for them to be where they are. For the better part of seven years coaching boys basketball I had the confidence and competitive attitude that I was the best coach on the floor no matter whom we play.
So we are twenty minutes into our first practice into a drill that I call “perfect layups,” where the team gets two minutes to make twenty layups. If they fail to get twenty, they have to keep trying until they get it.
Twenty minutes is all it took for my confidence to be questioned, after the team failed to get twelve made layups on the first try. We tried again, with little improvement. I looked at my wife and said, “We might have to go back to 3-man weave.”
This was the moment when I realized I was not coaching high school boys anymore. One of our players, hearing what I said to my wife, exclaimed, “That was offensive.” I saw how upset and insulted she was at what I said, and it broke my heart.
That same style of coaching that I have been using for years was put into question after twenty minutes. At first I didn’t understand what I said to make her so upset. After speaking to my wife, I understood that I had to change the way that I coach. I have learned that boys perform better when they are full of pure adrenaline, and that girls thrive off of emotion, performing at their best when they feel good about what they are doing.
This has made me a better coach, more empathetic to the athletes that I interact with every day. It has also made me a better teacher, as I am more aware at the buttons I can push with certain students. It has made me a better husband, as I listen more than I talk (a more common word in my dictionary now is “yes”.) As a bonus, this biker bar experience has also prepared me for fatherhood this January, as I will treat my athletes and students with compassion and respect to their emotions, the exact way I would want my daughter to be taught and coached.