Mealtime Banter

I miss the conversations. As I think back, that’s probably the only thing that I truly miss about college. Please don’t misconstrue that to mean that I didn’t have an amazing four years of college. I did. But, in most cases, I’ve been able to improve on any college experience post-collegiately.

Conversations, however, are harder to come by. They’re everywhere in college. Meals, classes, workouts, dorms, and anytime you’re walking between. You’re surrounded by people in the same phase of life as you with so much time to sit and talk. In fact, that’s your purpose most of the time. To just sit and talk.

Nowadays, my wife and I have to find an evening that is also free for some of our friends, invite them over, corral the kids, cook, and then hope that the kids permit us to have 10-15min of conversation time at some point throughout the evening. It probably happens once or twice a month if we’re focused on it and lucky.

In college, all you have to do is walk to you neighbors door and say, “Hey, you wanna grab dinner?” Done and done.

I don’t really have a solution for this. And I’m honestly not complaining. My current situation makes me value the real conversations that I get to have all the more. I just wish I really knew what I had when I was in college. I would have enjoyed the moment a little more.

When I’m eating in the dining hall these days, I look around at everyone immersed in conversations on everything from Machiavelli to fantasy football. Being surround by people who push you and challenge your way of seeing the world is something I miss.

Granted, maybe I have it more than I think. It just isn’t so overt as deep philosophical conversations. Echo and T-Bone definitely challenge my way of seeing the world. They’re stripped-down view of the world with happiness as a #1 priority helps keep me in perspective. And I’m sure I constantly push their views of the world too.

Seems odd that I replaced a campus full of people my own age with a 2 and 5-year-old. Yet the effect is similar.

Locker Room Talk

Many men talk like Donald Trump in private. And only other men can stop them….it takes men like me to hold our friends accountable for things they say and do to objectify women. We must challenge their values, language and actions.

– Shaun Harper, The Washington Post

I am going to be succinct so that my message doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Obviously, locker room culture is and has been a huge part of my life. And yes, on rare occasions, I have overheard inappropriate and crass statements in locker rooms. These absolutely have to be teachable moments.  Admittedly, I didn’t always have the courage to speak my mind. But with practice you find your voice.

“Not here. That’s not us. We don’t think like that. We don’t talk like that. And we don’t act like that.”

End of teachable moment.

In my locker room, this isn’t a discussion. And this isn’t open for debate.

Like many other situations, there is no such thing as tacit disapproval.   There is no abstaining here.  You always make a choice.  You either silently or vocally support it, or you vocally reject it.  The cost of silence always outweighs the cost of speaking up.

And it shouldn’t matter if you’re talking to a sophomoric senior in high school or a potential leader of the free world, “Not here.  That’s not us.  We don’t think like that. We don’t talk like that. And we don’t act like that.”

My rock

She is going to be so mad at me for this.

Coaching is a pretty thankless profession. And I’m fine with that. That doesn’t make it, or me, very special. Most jobs in education are that way. But that’s beside the point. What I’m trying to say is that if you think being a coach is thankless, that’s nothing compared to being a coach’s wife.

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All the time commitments – long nights and weekends, trips to Nationals, training trips – it all dominoes onto her. Here I sit, managing another VB match. And she’s at home corralling two little ones, getting them fed and into bed, feeding the dog, and countless else.

I’ve always believed that it’s critical that I be the rock for my teams. I need to be a steady, predictable force. An athlete needs to be able to walk in my office and know that they can tell me absolutely anything and my reaction will be rational and respectful.

How do you think I’m able to do that? If I didn’t have her propping me up half the time, I’d slowly unravel. She’s my sounding board. She’s my proofreader. (Not this post though.) She keeps me in check.

Typically, she gets her 15 seconds of fame at our season ending banquet where I embarrass her and thank her in front of the entire team. That really isn’t enough for what she does though. She deserves to be embarrassed in front of the entire internet. I’ve been a head coach for 11 years now and she’s been with me the entire time. I can’t thank her enough.   That is so many nights where I stare off aimlessly thinking of how to fix an athletes technique or get them healthy. So many 10pm phone calls about everything under the sun.

And there she is, towing our two little ones, taping Go Williams! billboards on their back for the NESCAC Championships, baking cookies for the team BBQ, and teaching everyone to shut their phone off when they come over for dinner.

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I have so much more to say, but I think it’s smart to stop here. I’m not joking, I may get in trouble for this. I love coaching. I really do. But, honestly, I don’t know if I could have done this last 11 years without her. Thanks Mar.

2016 Purple Valley Classic

Year Two. And like a sophomore reflecting back on his freshman year, I’m absolutely blown away by what a year has done for me. This weekend’s Purple Valley Classic was eye-opening for me. After a full year, I now feel comfortable admitting that last year’s PVC was tough for me emotionally. Not only were my former athletes there competing, but it was my first ever instance cheering for the Purple & Gold.

I’d been on the other side of the aisle from Williams for nearly two decades and for my entire adult life. In hindsight, it does seem somewhat understandable that I might struggle to immediately cheer for the uniform. I’d been conditioned to have a vastly different emotional response to that singlet. They’d been my competition since I was 18-years-old.  But I expected more from myself.

And so, when the “Go Ephs!” chant didn’t instinctually roll off my tongue, I felt like a bad person. In that moment, it hurt. I felt like I wasn’t up to my job, like I was disappointing the guys. I felt disingenuous.

Honestly, I didn’t “enjoy” the 2015 PVC. I wanted it to be this cathartic, liberating experience. A fresh start for me and my family. Instead it was simply incredibly draining.

I forced myself to focus on faces. I told myself that it wasn’t about the uniform. It was about the person wearing it. I’d already made connections with the team. I’d been impressed watching the squad summit Mt. Greylock. I knew them and what they wanted to accomplish. I wanted it for them. I wanted to help them get there. They were a great group of guys and I wanted to be a great coach for them.

By the end of race, I was much closer to where I needed to be.  I was doing all I could to help propel Bijan to the finish line against an Amherst runner. Then Noah, Ben, Griffin, Kyle…my voice did what it could.

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Purple Valley Classic 2016

And now, just one year later, the chants come easy. Because we’ve strived together. I’ve worn the colors. I’ve been brought into the fold. 2016 PVC was fantastic. My kids knew the teams. They got hugs from Williams coaches. They remembered the course and where to run. I met some Williamstown parents because our kids already knew each other. I wasn’t the outsider anymore.

Although it came a year later than I hoped, I finally got that catharsis I needed. And I feel like I now have a new home course to defend.  And a new home.

Off track is on-track.

After a year at Williams, I’ve realized that one of my favorite things about being here is that I’m more than just a track coach. It’s made me feel more tied in to the community as a whole. It makes me feel like less of a stranger as I walk through campus and see so many more familiar faces.

I’m the Game Manager for volleyball. A duty that I share with the softball team. Really, they do all the work as announcers, statisticians, line judges, ball women. I’m just here to make sure the crowd doesn’t get too rowdy. So far, so good. But it connects me to two other teams and many other athletes.

I teach a Women’s Power Lifting class which has become one of the best parts of my week. I get to watch as women who have never entered the weight room before go from not knowing where to put their feet in a squat to loading up the bar with more than they ever thought they’d lift.

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This class is great because it connects me with the non-varsity athlete side of campus. I love running into my students on campus and seeing them in the dining hall. Selfishly, it reminds me that now I’m more than just a coach.

I play pick up basketball with professors. You’d be amazed at the silky, smooth post moves that exist in the Williams physics department. I haven’t gotten to the point of trash talking with professors yet. Maybe I’ll save that for year three.

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I guess while we’re at it, I most commonly introduce myself as Echo and Tenacious’ father. They easily know more people in Williamstown than I do.   It just makes thing’s easier.

Long story, short. I really like that I’m not just Coach Barron. I’ve always preached that it’s important to have a balance of life. But I haven’t always been the best at living that way for myself. I feel as though I’m getting better at it. And that it’s making me a better coach in the process.

Orange Crush vs Super Tecmo Bowl

I have an extremely distinct memory from my childhood that has stuck with me over time. It starts with me in our basement playing Super Tecmo Bowl (as too many of my memories do). My father calls me up as I’m trying to win 100-0 against the Minnesota Vikings. This was something I also did all too often. He tells me to hop in his truck, that we have an errand to run.

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I pester him with questions of what, when, where? Because what could possibly be more important at this time than a stunning defeat to the Vikes. Per usual, my father says nothing. He prides himself on his stoicism and/or answering questions with questions.

Ten minutes later, we pull up to Terrell Street Beverage Center. We get out and buy two 30-packs of soda. Orange Crush and Sprite. All this is done in complete silence except for when he tells me to carry the 30-packs. Have I been brought along solely for the muscle? Given that I almost have to make two trips for the two cases, I doubt I’m there for my strength.

We drive to the fire station, this isn’t a surprise because my father is a fireman. Again, I carry the sodas into the station, up the stairs, past the smoking room (why in heck there was a smoking room in a fire station still eludes me to this day) and towards the kitchen. Just before we reach the kitchen, my father takes the sodas from me.

He carries them in and gives them to two of the firemen watching television. Honestly, I don’t recall exactly what he said to them, but it was along the lines of “Thanks for that thing, in that place, for the guy the other day.” “Sure thing, B.” they respond. And we leave.

When we start to drive home, my father finally explains this whole outing to me. Essentially, the two firemen had helped a friend of my father. No direct connection, just a friend of a friend. Most firemen have second skills. Plumber, electrician, mechanic, painter, carpenter, etc. A firehouse is almost a little commune that continuously helps each other out.

These two guys did my father a solid. Their time was worth far more than 60 sodas. But they would have done it for free. Because they know my father would always do the same if the situation were reversed. Yet it was critical to my father that I understood the true importance of gratitude.

And although I don’t recall what he said to those firemen in the kitchen that day, his stern “Ethan, always take care of the people who take care of you.” continues to stay with me.

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At the time, I definitely didn’t think it was more important than Super Tecmo Bowl. But he had planted the seed. One that sat with me, silently, for many years. I can’t say exactly when it started to become a part of my routine, but it’s there now. And in this position at Williams, you can’t imagine the number of people behind the scenes helping take care of me, my family, and my team. There just aren’t enough 30-packs of Orange Crush to go around.

Different uniform, same purple.

I know that I’m supposed to be excited for November 1st to roll around. And I am. (It’s the first official day of indoor track.) But honestly, I’m just too fired up for the fall seasons this year to get myopically focused on November 1.  For a number of reasons, this fall is unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.  And hopefully the start of many to come.

Last fall, I watched my first NESCAC football game since 2000 when I was a student. Not because of a lack of desire.  It was simply my first season not coaching XC in 13 years.  Sadly, last year was more dominated by adjusting to a new office, a new home, and many new faces to be able to get fully invested in the games.  I wasn’t in a space to truly be the fan that I wanted to be.

I hadn’t even had the opportunity to connect with all our multi-sport athletes who suit up for Williams year-round.  They were sadly just names on the roster I inherited.  I’d shoot them good luck or congratulatory messages throughout the fall, but who was I?  I was just a name on a roster.  We had no history.

This year is totally different. Between the six football players, two soccer players, and entire XC squad, most of our T&F roster will be in a uniform this fall. And, this time around, I know these guys. We’ve worked together. We’ve suited up together. They’ve had my back and I’ve had theirs. We’ve set goals and gone and got them. That changes everything.

I’m not out their supporting a name on a roster. I’m out there supporting a teammate. And it feels so much better.

So, although I’ve been thinking about November 1st pretty much since the plane ride home from Nationals last spring, I’m fully immersed in the present moment. November will come, soon enough. No need for me to rush it. For now, there’s plenty of purple and gold to go out and enjoy.

See you at the pitch.