by Holly Custer, Head Coach, Wooster (Akron)
“Oh no! It’s my last practice . . . EVER!”
We’ve all heard this before—especially as the State Tournament becomes just a memory; for an OSDA coach, this time of year is bittersweet.
We all have worked incredibly hard—helping our students hone their skills all year, watching with pride as they grow and improve—while always knowing, in the back of our minds, that it will come to an end. We know that our students have made great strides, and we know that we have imparted as much as we could in the short time we have known them.
So…what comes next?
For a few of our students, we have the National Tournament to work toward. For those students, the hours of practice are not over just yet. (They have earned a slight reprieve, though!) As much as we want to practice, I encourage our national qualifiers to “let go” for a short time; therefore, after the State tournament, we take several weeks off. After all, everyone has some aspect of life that needs attending (laundry, friends, seeing that bright yellow ball in the sky that we forget exists during those long winter months …); we take those few weeks off to regroup and reground ourselves.
Beginning around mid-April, we have fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. This is the time when we examine pieces, cases, and selections. We look at where we were at the end of the season, and we take stock of what we like—and what we think could use some work. It is fairly common for us to rearrange, reword, or change characterizations. Now is our time to try out some new things.
Sometimes, we go back to what we had, while other times we find something new that works even better. Either way it goes, we know that we have tried and have made it the best we can. Practices ramp up through May, and we keep working until competition starts. The few weeks of reprieve we took in March and April have given us a new lease on what we are doing, where we are going, and what we hope to accomplish. By this point we only have several more practice sessions left, but what then?
Ultimately, it all comes to an end. But how do we say goodbye to these students?
How do we let them know they have impacted us just as much as we hope we have impacted them? The answer: (I wish I had one.)
Every year at this time, it becomes harder and harder to say goodbye. Of course, it does. We have spent so much time, effort, and energy with these students that they become a part of our lives, but we know that their time here is finished. We know they have bigger and better things waiting for them. We know that we have prepared them as best we can for whatever comes next. And then we have to let them go—but not without reminding them of what waits for them if (and when?!) they choose to return.
Like many teams, we have a banquet to celebrate our year. We take a moment at our banquet to recognize each class, and when we get to our seniors, we provide them with a senior gift. Although it is not much, we hope that it provides them with a fond memory when they look at it; we also hope that the little reminder of our team stays fresh in their minds.
As we send our seniors off, we always remind them that they have a home with our team. We remind them of how nervous they were when they began, and we try to help them see how much they have grown since then—whether it be over one year, two years, three or four.
We ask them to remember the team that supported them, and to try to give back when they have the opportunity. Sometimes that means they come back and work with students, sometimes that means they judge for us … and sometimes, it means they begin to coach other places, helping train the next speakers of the OSDA. (Whatever way it comes, we are glad for it!)
These individuals know they have a place where they can come and be who they are. Although they no longer have practices with us, they know they can still come home. And is that not what we hope for—a lasting relationship with our students that continues to be fruitful well into the future?
As we send our seniors off to their futures, let us all remind them not only of what they have accomplished—but of what remains to be accomplished.
And through it all, we will be here for them.