Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Virginia is for Layouts Recap

From an organizer's perspective, it is a bit overwhelming to try to describe what happened at Virginia is for Layouts last weekend. 28 teams, 28 guest coaches, games, skills clinics, development sessions, classroom sessions, teammates, rivals, old friends, new friends. 6+ months of planning culminating in the pinnacle of the Without Limits season.

I've organized dozens of tournaments over the years, and I can't shake the feeling that what we accomplished this past weekend is truly something special. There are many tournaments that serve the top of the women's division extremely well, and as they have expanded to include more divisions and qualifiers, they are doing an increasingly good job of serving the middle of the women's division as well. But what about the B teams? The new women's teams who can barely field 7 people at practice? The D-III teams who are faced with a new competition structure and few resources? Who serves them?

Enter the idea for Layouts.

The tournament and its multitude of challenges have weighed heavily on me for the past 6 months. To be honest, a few months ago, I was fairly certain the tournament would be a huge disappointment, but after a meeting with the other organizers and a conversation with one of the Grinnell captains, I fell back on one of my major life mottos, "Refuse to fail." T
errified of letting these people down, I poured my heart and soul into the event. I ran clinics to help fundraise money, I begged my teammates and friends for their support, I emailed teams repeatedly until I got a response. The number of teams committed to the event grew from 5 to 28 in less than 2 months' time. And when the time came to find guest coaches for all of these teams, Lindsey Hack wrangled a dozen of her teammates from Phoenix and Ember to come coach, and players from Showdown, Molly Brown, Brute Squad, Ozone, RevoLOUtion, Ring, Cash Crop, Ironside, Haymaker, and The Ghosts joined them. The level of coordination required to pull off an event like this is something I cannot even begin to describe-- there are so many moving pieces, and as the event took shape, I began to realize the utter insanity that was sandwiching this event between tournaments sized at 52 teams, 42 teams, 40 teams, and another brand new tournament.

The weekend did not go perfectly. We survived a guest coast dropping the week before the event, a team dropping the day before the event, and a mix-up in the tournament location causing a team to miss their first round on Saturday. Some of the classroom sessions were smaller than I had hoped. The usual craziness of hosting an event for hundreds of people took over at times. Organization behind the scenes did not always go smoothly, and we talked through difficult issues. But in the end, I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish. We created an amazing playing and development opportunity for D-III, B-teams, and on-the-cusp teams. And that is something we can be proud of.

Over the course of the weekend, I saw clear admiration in the eyes of many college players as they hung on to their guest coaches' every word. Some of them had spirit circles at the end of the weekend to thank their coaches, and at one point, I saw Tufts B marching two-by-two as their guest coach, Frances Deschenes, led them to their next development session. I saw some of the best players in the club division break down basic skills for young college players, I saw strategy being explained to teams, and I witnessed one-on-one instruction happening on the sidelines. I saw coaches rushing the field out of excitement when their teams scored, I saw a brand new women's team win 3 games on the weekend, and I got to witness what happens when you put players from 10 different club teams together at a dinner table. I had amazing conversations with captains, players, coaches, and even parents. I left the weekend feeling incredibly challenged.
I had the privilege of (unexpectedly) teaching a development session on "Building A College Program," and the focus and engagement from the players in attendance floored me. It reminded me that these players love their teams and our sport as much as my teammates at the elite club level. I believe that the development of the women's division involves raising both the ceiling and the floor. It is not enough to just serve the top of the women's division, and the opportunities for the middle and lower tier teams may have to look radically different than it does for the teams at the top.

The feedback surveys are showing overwhelming positive feedback about the coaches. "I learned so much" and "(Insert Coach Name) was AMAZING!" are recurring themes in the feedback.
My inbox has also been filled with emails from college players over the past few days, more than a few which have brought me to tears. One of my guest coaches, a young club player, whom I have invested a ton into over the past year, wrote me an email yesterday saying, "I can't stop thinking about how awesome this tournament was, it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever experienced. Thanks for letting me be a part of it, I hope to do it again next year." That was enough to make me realize that maybe, just maybe, we have done something worthwhile.

While I am still exhausted from the weekend (with two of my biggest events on the horizon), my brain won't let me stop thinking about where I go from here. Looking back on a very uncertain few months, and looking forward to two more months on the road, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how Layouts fits into the bigger picture, and the kind of difference I want to make in the ultimate community. To organize a good event or to raise money for a college team are both great things, but I want to do more than that.
It's 5:00 AM and I still need to put the finishing touches on the Women's College Centex captains' packet, so I'll close with two quotes that have me thinking.
Sport and physical education play an important role at the individual, community, national, and global levels. For the individual, sport enhances one's personal abilities, general health, and self-knowledge. On the national level, sport and physical education contribute to economic and social growth, improve public health, and bring different communities together. On the global level, if used consistently, sport and physical education can have a long-lasting impact on development, public health, peace, and the environment. - United Nations International Year of Sport and Physical Education

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand. - Nelson Mandela
Layouts would not have been possible without the help of many, many people. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this event-- your love and support have meant the world to me, and I hope to pay your investment forward many times over as I seek to make a difference not only in our sport, but in the lives of the people who make up this community.