How do you move from being a player to coaching your own teammates?

After deciding to attend Azusa Pacific, Janet Wong, head coach of Bonita High School’s field hockey program, called me with an offer I could not refuse. I was on a road trip with my grandpa when I got the call. 

“Hey there Julie, I have a job opening and was wondering if you were interested,” Wong said. 

Immediately I knew what the question was going to be.

“Would you like to be the new freshmen/sophomore coach next year?” she asked.

At first, I was overjoyed to even be considered for the position. But then, as I continued to think about it, insecurity and doubt crept in. After all, Wong had just asked me to become the coach of a team that I had been a part of for three years myself. 

How would I lead a team? Would I be able to mold these young players into junior varsity and varsity material? I am only 19 years old; would they even listen to me?After praying and talking to my mom and coach Wong, I decided it was a challenging opportunity I could not turn down.

After I came back from my road trip, it was time to assume the role of FROSH coach and get my head in the game. Summer practices were a nice ease into the position, as I got to shadow Wong and see her coaching style from a coaching perspective, rather than a player’s. 

Coaching is a major responsibility that requires an immense amount of time and effort. If that is not enough, try moving from being the player to suddenly being the coach. 

The hardest part of the process was separating myself from the girls I had just played with. But as the summer progressed and teams were starting to form, my voice as a coach became louder and more confident.

When the high school season began I needed to meet with the district athletic director. In our meeting, he shared a lot of don’ts and very few do’s, the biggest one being that I could no longer be my teammates’ friend on the field.

Once, a player came up to me and started telling me about her boyfriend troubles and I knew that it was no longer my place to minister to. I had to tell her, “Sorry love, I am no longer in the position to talk about this.” Her confusion was immediate, but eventually she would understand the new circumstances. I was not looking forward to having more awkward conversations, but I knew they would arise. 

Just like that, I was faced with another obstacle — parents. All parents want what is best for their child, but that does not necessarily mean that their child will have everything handed to them. 

During offseason play, the girls have more room to experiment with different positions, which sometimes means that others will not be playing their best, or at their favorite position. This sounds like a good idea in theory, right? Apparently not. 

At that point, the issue was no longer separating myself from the players to establish a role of authority, but it was an issue of being walked on by the parents. Because of my young age and previous team involvement, many parents saw me as a tool to get what they wanted out of the program.  

Fortunately, I am not one to be used. However, it was still a challenge to respectfully stand up for myself. 

Parents who attend almost every game notice when their child is not being played in ‘their’ position. After one game, a parent came up to me and asked “Why is my daughter playing defense when she is a forward?” 

I sensed the annoyance in her voice and knew that I needed to think of the right words to respond with. After a second, I replied, “I understand your concern. Today was an offseason game and the girls decided that if they were doing well as a team, others could try new positions. If you have any more concerns you are more than welcome to talk to Coach Wong.”

I could tell that my response was not what she was looking for, but she thanked me for the explanation and walked back to the stands. That was when I finally took a breath. 

Being the young, new coach that I was — and still am, in a sense — opened my eyes to how much my voice needed to be heard and respected.

Making the shift from player to coach was not easy. There were, and still are, times where I make a mistake, but I have grown in more ways than one. Not only has this experience made me a better communicator in the realm of high school sports, but my skills have extended into other areas of my life. 

The experience I have gained as a Bonita High School field hockey coach has positively impacted the way I manage time, complete work and communicate with all: the young and not so young. 

Becoming a boss to your bestie is challenging, but rewarding beyond measure.