Today would have been my niece Penelope's 1st birthday. Having lost her a year ago and having lost my nephew a few years before, I have dedicated myself to the children of the world. I pour my heart and soul into each child that i work with in hopes of somehow honoring their memory and trying to make them proud to be a part of my family. This post is dedicated to all of the children who never got to feel the sand beneath their toes or the sunlight on their faces. To the ones who never got the experiences in life that we all take for granted each day. Penelope, Lincoln... Your uncle loves you very much.
My alarm goes off at 5:15 every morning. I wake up, take a shower, get dressed, and I am out the door. I usually roll into the parking lot at the school around 6:15 each morning. I like to get there early to make sure that I am prepared for the day, but also I like to make sure that when kids need help, I am there. The school day goes on, and is over at 2:17. I stay until around 3:30 most days to prep, plan, grade, tutor, answer parent e-mails, return phone calls, research new things for classes to make things more interesting, etc. At 3:45 my alarm on my phone goes off again, every day. This alarm tells me, Nick, it's time to leave the school and go to practice. It's the very latest I can leave and still be on time getting to the park by 4:15 for our first practice session. Our sessions go from 4:15-9:00 every day. and then I go home, eat, go to sleep, and then repeat the next day. I don't have time for much outside of what i do for kids each day. I'm not married. I don't have kids of my own. This is my grind and has been for about 7 years now. I love my grind.
As of today, April 13th, it has been exactly one month since schools shut down in Arizona. The mass panic has seemed to settle down. The grocery stores have most things back in stock and you have probably either found a mask to purchase or made one of your own. Kids have all settled into online school and what their new experience for their education will look like for the foreseeable future. Your practices have been canceled. Your tournaments are on hold. Your club has sent out as many challenges as you can think of. What do we do now?
I have always believed that for kids, you go the extra mile. You do your absolute best for them because they deserve that example. You, after all, may become a role model for them and you do not want to model anything less than what you would expect out of them. Well, for me, that means that just because the season is on hold, doesn't mean that I hit the pause button on showing up for them. It doesn't mean that in the time in their lives when quite possibly they need us as coaches more than they ever have, we just say, "see ya when this is all over". Ryan and I have talked at length about this. It isn't about the money. It never has been. It is about kids. It is about making sure that you are doing everything possible to help mentor them and mold them. So, here we go.
As we made our way through last week in the thick of all of this craziness with Covid-19, we wanted to be sure to keep our athletes, both former and current, engaged. You see, over time in RPM we have truly developed a culture of family. It is the thing that we are most proud of about our club by far. We wanted to help ALL of our athletes to focus on some positive things even though we weren't practicing. You see, just because you leave RPM to go on to college doesn't mean we don't still think about you and care about you. I scoured the internet for ideas. I looked at, and continue to look at, the Instagram pages and websites of other clubs and even other sports teams. I wanted to get ideas of what teams were doing with their kids. All I saw was challenge video after challenge video. In talking to some of the athletes, they were getting kind of bored with them. Part of being a teacher is differentiation. It's trying to keep kids engaged by changing things up for them. There are only so many challenges you can come up with for kids and we felt like we had done a ton of them.
I had seen different Bingo games popping up on the internet for different things. There was one for my hometown of Flagstaff that I thought was really fun and nostalgic, so I thought, why not try it? Another thing you know as a teacher is that just because you think it is an awesome idea does NOT mean that kids will. You can put a ton of time and effort into things and they can fall flat in an instant. You have to be prepared for that and roll with the punches. Not everything you do is gold. Well, I created a Bingo game that had some of the memories that I thought kids might like to think about. Everything from silly things with their coaches to memories of being on the beach at tournaments to favorite local restaurants in Hermosa Beach where we all spend so much of our time during the summers. We sent out the bingo game and it exploded like wildfire. We had kids who are currently in the program tagging kids who are alumni and and it seemed as though most of our club got involved somehow.
Still, we missed our kids. We wanted to be able to talk to them, interact with them, and see their faces. We wanted for them to know that even though we are all apart right now, we are still thinking about them and care about them. Since I am currently teaching online, I suggested the idea to Ryan that we do Zoom calls with the girls. That we get on and just talk. I figured it would be a good chance to see how they were and what they were doing. Let them see and chat with each other a bit, and just kind of all be together in one place. I put it together and we sent out the e-mail. We logged on and chatted for about an hour. It was really fun! We talked about how they were and what they were doing with their time. We talked about Tiger King, and what shows and movies they were watching. We talked about their transition to online school and graduation for the seniors. We had kids from the age of 12 all the way through seniors in on the call as one big family. It was great!
I got off the call thinking to myself, well that was awesome! Then the teacher in me set in. How do we make the next one more dynamic? How do we keep the kids engaged? How do we promote the environment that we want our club to be known for? I got back on and checked club after club to see what they were doing. I looked at social media for hours trying to find inspiration and nothing was coming to me. Then, I clicked on the RPM Instagram story and saw the hashtag #rpmfamily4life. It had been posted about 50 times with everyone from 12 year olds all the way through our college seniors who had done the Bingo games. That was it! There was my idea! How do I connect all of the pieces of our complex puzzle of family?
Well, I put them on a zoom call together. I started contacting alumni. I told them that I wanted the current players in our program to be able to have the opportunity to know the girls that helped build it. I wanted the alumni to be able to know the current generation of players and help them to understand the legacy they left behind. RPM, even in its short 7 year history, has an incredible culture filled with genuine people. I wanted each athlete in our program to see how much they matter no matter how old or young they are. Each alum that I called was excited for the opportunity. They jumped at the chance to get on calls with us. Some of the best players in the country joined us last week to talk about what college life was like. About what their training schedules were like. About what their recruiting process was like. About anything and everything from juniors volleyball to their first time playing in the AVP and internationally.
I think it painted a great picture for our juniors athletes of the fact that there are so many different paths to take to get to college to play and that each person is unique, but that it is absolutely possible if you put in the work to get there. For our college kids I think that it allowed them the chance to reflect on their path that got them to where they are and showed them that blazing the way matters. The way they comport themselves matters because they represent RPM and all of the athletes that come behind them. Yes, they are playing for themselves and their college teams, but when their school goes to recruit again their example of what an RPM athlete is, shows the college what kind of athletes come from our program.
Saturday was my birthday. As I sat answering text messages, face-time calls, Instagram and Facebook posts, and DM's, I was overwhelmed with the amount of love i was getting particularly from my athletes and their families. Then it dawned on me. All those people we had tried so hard to go the extra mile for over the years were now going the extra mile for others. Did our alumni have to get on those Zoom calls all week and talk to a bunch of kids they don't know? Absolutely not! Did they have to, so kindly, answer a million questions about their careers and their challenges? Nope. They did it anyway. They may not have even thought it was a big deal. Heck, the girls may not realize how big of a deal it was for them to do it either, but it sure was a big deal to us! Their willingness to go the extra mile for their club and their RPM Family meant the world to us as coaches. I said it before and I will say it again. The thing we are most proud of as coaches is not all of the national championship wins. It isn't the 60+ players we have sent off to play division 1. It's not the pro players that we have had come out of our program. It's the family atmosphere that we have built.
I'll leave you with this. One of our 14 year olds asked Claire Coppola, one of the top 2 players on the #1 college team in the country, "I heard that when you were in juniors, you helped 5 different teammates to get recruited to college. What made you decide to do that?" Her answer embodied everything we have ever tried to build. She said, "Because they were my teammates. Because they were the ones who came to practice every day and competed hard against me to help me to be the best player that I could be. You see, without them pushing me every day in practice and training hard with me, I would not be the player I am today." That mentality, that simple answer right there. THAT is what going the extra mile brings about! People ask us all the time what our secret is. That's it. You can't fake the authenticity that her unprompted answer brought out. ANYONE can go online and read drill books and run drills. ANYONE who played the game can show you how a skill is performed. It is the buy-in from the best athletes in the nation that your culture has built in them that is unmatched. If you are trying to build a club and you want to beat ours, you better be willing to go the extra mile for your kids EVERY DAY, because I promise you, I am, we are!
So for my niece Penelope and my nephew Lincoln looking down on me every day. Thank you for the strength you give me to go the extra mile. Your uncle loves you very much.