She Was My Mentor: Part II


Redettes 2004 (my final year). Amazing team full of bright, athletic girls. (If you squint you can see Carol and me in the background).

Redettes 2004 (my final year). Amazing team full of bright, athletic girls. We kicked ass! If you squint you can see Carol and me in the background.

After my first year of university I felt thoroughly lost. I lacked the independence and focus one needs to thrive in post-secondary life (not uncommon, worrying nonetheless), and my 20-something dramas had me concentrating on the wrong things. I longed to feel sure-footed again, so I veered toward what I knew.

In the summer of 2001, the Redettes’ head coach Cathy was leaving, so the job was up for grabs. I was determined to be the heir (or usurper). For whatever reason, Carol gave me the green light. I was very much the isn’t-ready-to-move-on-so-turns-to-coaching kid; selfish and immature on all fronts, but usually those elements fall away (and they mostly did for me). I support young coaches; it’s essential to have youthful role models, but I think it’s right and fair to consider why that person wants in. Looking back, coaching was something I grew into, not without the growing pains.

One of the first things on the agenda for Carol and me was our dynamic. It was still comfortably set at athlete-coach (a polite term for kid-grownup), which I was fine with (or heavily dependent on). As long as I had free reign over the routine and our practices (which I didn’t), I was content. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t ready to accept full responsibility, so Carol as teacher-in-charge, manager and co-coach was the situation on the ground. Over time, I grew to realize I wasn’t the center of the universe, so some of the weight shifted to me, but only when I started my own team and teaching career in 2008 would I know what it meant to be a real chief.

Flash-forward to 2009: I met up with Carol at Cheer Expo (the biggest cheer event east of Montreal). She was with her daughter, my former teammate and athlete, and I couldn’t wait to show them my new team, the Huskies: a sweet, hardworking group of beginners. It had been five years since we coached together, and I wanted to prove that I was a bona fide grown up (even if I was still very much in the process). She was really happy to see me coaching and teaching, and when I expressed gratitude for her mentorship (in a shaky voice), she smiled humbly and said what she always says to me “Oh, Hollie!” I remember this moment vividly because it reaffirmed the purpose of why we pursue our passions collectively, like in sport: fulfillment, and a big part of that fulfillment is found in our relationships with each other.

We talked (it was more her telling stories), but all the while I was thinking about what I couldn’t verbalize: two big things I’d learned from our working relationship that were currently helping me to succeed:

Always be friendly but never be ‘the friend’

This was the first lesson I learned in coaching. At 31 it’s a no-brainer, but at 19 it’s neither easy nor clear. When I started out, a quarter of the Redettes were my former teammates. For a while I scurried between gathering false confidence from these relationships to greatly resenting them. I loved these girls, but if I wanted to establish myself as coach, something had to shift. Carol watched me battle it out in the locker room, on the floor and in my head. I’d hang out with my team and yell at them to run drills all in a day, yet I was baffled when they’d become offended or brush me off.  Before long, Carol passed me the proverbial stick and I drew a line in the sand. The best way to illustrate is through one of my favourite Harry Potter moments. Right?!

Rufus Scrimgeour (newly appointed Minister for Magic): It’s time you learned some respect!

Harry: It’s time you earned it!

I learned what Carol had been reinforcing all along: you can’t coach your friends. I had to be there for them, not with them. Am I saying the boundaries didn’t continue to blur? No, they did, but Carol taught me how to be friendly and forge bonds without being ‘the friend’.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever made a difference to anyone, but I really pray that, at least, I did no harm.”   ~Carol (many times).

This, unfortunately, wasn’t the first but the hardest and most significant lesson I learned in my three years coaching RHS. As a young, new coach I was a bit power-hungry and hotheaded.  I said stupid, mean things. I cursed, yelled and pushed too hard. I lectured too long and doled out insensitive punishments. Cringe-worthy, but that’s what happens when a 19-year-old know it all is in charge. Or thinks she is. Carol would repeatedly pull me aside and give the “You just can’t say that!” speech, warning me about parents and feelings. I’d listen, but I was still too much of a child to get it. It took me telling one of my girls, (whose sister is my best friend), to casually ‘f**k off’ in order for me to learn my lesson. It was a horribly low moment for me. But coaches curse and say things they shouldn’t. They can be insensitive and rash. Even seasoned ones find themselves digging a hole or shoving a sock in their mouth. It happens. They only thing to do is apologize, mean it, work to regain trust and pray that somehow we can make it right. The thing is, a lot of the time we can’t. Carol told me that from day one. Observing her, I learned about the need to practice kindness and understanding above all. Young, new coaches can do this; with Carol’s encouragement and support, I was able to.

*We all know foul language is part of sport. Controversial as it is, coaches have used it to rally or drive home a point. We don’t need to use the big, nasty words and there ways of speaking powerfully without being explicit, especially if we’re teachers. Language, I’ve learned (through mistakes and good practice) is hugely about mutual respect. In other words, I choose my words wisely.

***

When talking about women’s roles, people often say “I don’t know how she does it”, and that drives me crazy. Pay attention and you’ll see! Come on.  Carol juggled motherhood (two girls, one boy), marriage (sweet man), a career and a team of surly teens (plus me). Watching her manage it all was baffling, intimidating, amusing, and above all, an education. She had no problem telling me what it took to get things done or owning her flaws. We had endless talks in her van, in the gym, in my car, and over coffee – you name it. I could draw on those talks forever (I especially recall one on her front step. It started with an argument (me being a brat) and ended with a heart-to-heart (her giving me advice). But I won’t drudge that up. Instead, I’ve called upon a few longtime friends and former teammates who like me, have been lucky to have Carol as a teacher, coach and in later years, a friend:

Carol has remained a steady influence throughout the years of my life. Even after I left high school ,where she was my teacher and  my coach, she encouraged  me to take my education degree, and just last month ,came for a visit to meet my new baby, Milo. She has been a wonderful mentor to so many of us and Hollie’s blog post has allowed me to really grasp what a positive influence she has been in my life.  
In the gym, she was always there for us. As a coach myself , I know what it takes to be there for 30 cheerleaders, 3 to 5 days a week. It isn’t easy. You sacrifice a lot to coach a Triple A sports team, and she did so for years. She really was the backbone of Riverview Cheerleading. What is a Redette anyway? (I think it should be a shadowed outline of Carol with one foot lunged forward with her fist up!)  Hahaha She may not have always known the right lingo but she did know what looked good and what didn’t. She was a stickler for timing which is a major component to this sport. She also kept us in line: “Don’t be the one dancing on the table at the party!” and taught us how to be team players. I will always continue to love and respect Carol as an amazing teacher, a dedicated coach, a loving mother, and quite honestly, a dear friend. Love you, Carol and thanks Hollie for taking your time to really highlight a fabulous person!

Sherri (Grads of ’99, former Redettes coach)

Sherri's AMAZING team back in 2011. I don't know these girls, but I feel a kinship with them because we are all Redettes, and I SO loved watching them. Plus, they were all really friendly. Arguably the most skilled team RHS has ever seen. They captured the first provincial banner since our win in '98.

Sherri’s AMAZING team back in 2011. I don’t know these girls, but I feel a kinship with them because we are all Redettes, and I SO loved watching them. Plus, they were all really friendly. Arguably the most skilled team RHS has ever seen. They captured the first provincial banner since our win in ’98.

Watch Sherri’s team win provincials: 

 ***

Like I said, cheer is an ever-evolving sport; the stunts get bigger and the routines more complicated in each passing year, and from 2001 to 2004, change was swift-going. Despite everyone’s full schedule, we practiced five days a week for the three years I coached. During competition season it was every day, sometimes twice a day (ever run through routine counts with a sandwich in your mouth? It’s entirely possible). I used to tell our team to ‘own it’, which is totally 90s diva-ish (did I get that from a Brandy song?) but it’s true. The athletic orchestra that is cheer requires gusto – hard to keep up, but necessary. It wasn’t about winning: that can never be determined, and it doesn’t fully define a team’s success (especially in a judged sport). For us it was about being the absolute best. (Sherri, I think that’s the definition of a Redette).

Not only that, we were still battling stereotypes and a certain rigid ignorance within our province’s school sport association. These ‘old boys club’ board members recognized cheerleading as a sport (they had to – those were the rules) but cheer in Cape Breton was not getting the respect and opportunity it deserved. It was a precarious time, and during my first year, our team struggled in the gym while Carol struggled as an advocate for what was – back then – an all-female sport in small-town Cape Breton. I guess for a long time cheerleading was sort of an ‘old girls club’, and that didn’t always make for fair or transparent officiating. We often felt like certain teams were getting the shaft (as we used to say) by certain judges while other teams enjoyed what we saw as false victories.

Disclaimer: judging controversy has mended itself in CB (I believe), and to be clear, I respected most officials back then. But you know, it only takes one or two rotten apples. In retrospect, I see where we had the right to battle it out and where we should have taken a breath, but I regret none of it because we (Carol especially) pushed for positive change.

Watching her face adversity inspired the feminist and the protester in me. I’ve studied feminist literature and I admire female artists and public figures, but Carol was a real woman doing real work – in front of me and beside me – almost every day. That’s impactful. I can’t say I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind or challenge injustice, but when I do fear it, I think something in me draws on those early experiences with Carol, and I keep pushing on. Any one of my students and athletes will confirm this. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one. More from the girls:

Over the years Carol has taught me many things, but what stands out most is how she (continues to) influence me:

 I learned from her that it is OK to not accept no for an answer, and to stand up for what you believe in no matter how high you have to climb to get there, and how much  shit-disturbing you have to do to get what you want.  

 She was someone I could turn to for anything, and I knew she would have my back 100 per cent (even if it meant a huge lecture after the fact – which I loved because I knew it was coming from a caring place).  She taught me how to have confidence and be outspoken. I was a shy, unconfident girl and Carol pushed me in a positive direction and helped me see the potential I had.  Cheerleading {in Cape Breton} would not be the same without her, and I think we were so lucky to have her!

 PS: One other memory: When I was in grade 11, we thought we were so good, and we weren’t…not like your grade 10 year when we really were awesome. We thought we were ripped off once again at a competition and we all stormed out after the announcement, making a big scene. Carol was so mad at us, and gave us a  huge lecture about having class (i.e. we are not to storm out of anything, and we are to lose with dignity).

 Jillian (Grads of ’98)

 I respect Carol; she was always good to talk to – even now at competitions we talk (and grab each other’s hands at provincials – we’re stressed when the Redettes are on the floor)! It has been 15 years since graduation, and watching provincials with her takes me right back to our big win in ‘98. Nothing will beat that weekend. I think it’s up there with most exciting moments of our lives.

 Carol looked out for us. And now, even though we are adults, she is still looking out for us. She gives me career advice, and we chat about the good ol’ days. She is always there. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her.  

  Sue (Grads of ’99)

I have had the pleasure of knowing Carol way before I ever thought that I would become a cheerleader. She was the mother of one of my childhood friends. I got too see her, first hand, as a mother, a teacher, a coach and a friend. And I can honestly say she always had my back, even when I didn’t know I needed it.

If it wasn’t for Carol I don’t think I would have had the experience of being on a successful athletic team. That experience has led to so many things. I now find myself living a life of service; helping people on a daily basis. Not only do I help clients to lose weight, but I help them to feel better about themselves. At times, putting their needs before my own. Carol not only did this on a daily basis, but did so selflessly and with a big hearty laugh.

Each day I feel closer and closer to one day having a family of my own, a husband and a child (maybe children – you never know). You never know how people in your young life help to form you as an adult. Carol has taught me that you can be successful at having a family and career, all the while helping people (as she did with me and all of her other “children”).

Carol, thank you for everything that you have taught me, and for being there for me. I also want to thank Hollie for giving me this opportunity to let you know how grateful I am to you.

Alana (Grads of ’00)

 I often wonder what sort of impact I’ve had on my athletes. I know the ones who loved me and the ones who didn’t, some I’m not quite sure about (and maybe they weren’t sure about me). All I can do is try, and if I fail, at least do them no harm.

*I want to thank Jillian, Sherri, Susan and Alana for their contributions and everyone (my former teammates and athletes especially) for their feedback and support. You’ve all made an impact on me. Most of all, I want to thank Mrs. Carol Douglas for always being herself, no matter what.  I love you, Carol!

Check out the Redettes today. They’re coached by Jen (who I’ve known since she was just a girl; her mom coached our junior high team). Jen was always at our practices, observing. She went on to become an all-star cheerleader and coach.  RHS  is currently first in this season’s rankings. Yes!

Jen's Redettes - 2014

Jen’s Redettes – 2014

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5 thoughts on “She Was My Mentor: Part II

  1. Good morning my sweet niece: Love reading your stories , you should be in journalism”. ,
    How about giving me your phone number , would love to call you , I will take the eleven hours time difference into consideration when I call , Miss you and love you,,,,xoxoxo your auntie. Carole a.

  2. I absolutely loved reading this. I am happy to say that I was lucky enough to be a Redette for 3 years, 2011 being my graduating year. It brings tears to my eyes to no longer be a Redette, but I live vicariously through each girl (or boy) who owns a uniform and steps out on the floor with RHS pride. Sherri was the greatest coach, as well as a role model and confidant for each team member, and to this day I keep in contact with her. Our coaches have and will always have a great impact on who we were not only as cheerleaders, but as people. This was a great read and thanks for mentioning the 2011 cheer family!

  3. Great article.. Carol has been a part of my life for years now, with her daughter being my best friend… you’re right about her “having our backs” and has taught me how a friends/team member should take care of each other. Thanks for all the years of mentorship Carol.

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