February 18, 2010 § 15 Comments
For the past two weeks, I’ve been tennis coach to a group of boys from my son’s school. I took lessons as a kid, but it’s been years since I’ve played an actual game. Not knowing what to expect, I feared the worst but have been pleasantly surprised.
They’re a good group of kids. One in particular, we’ll call him Bo Jangles, has provided ample entertainment. He’s actually a decent tennis player, but has a bit of a focus problem. Every practice begins with stretches and laps around the court. I run with them to discourage stragglers and add the “incentive” that if they let a mother of 3 beat them, the can run a few more. I like hustle.
I run at the back of the pack, just to keep an eye on them, and noticed early on that Mr. Bo Jangles likes to eat while running. And I mean he actually carried a bag of Doritos’s in his hand, popped one in his mouth, and talked to his teammates. At first I didn’t believe it was happening, my eyes were probably playing tricks on me. Then he tilted his head back, shook the remnants of the bag into the back of his throat, all while running. I envisioned a tiny particle of chip goodness lodging itself in the back of his throat.
“Mr. Bo Jangles,” I shouted. “You cannot run and eat at the same time. You’ll choke.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Then please make sure you eat a snack before practice starts.”
End of discussion. I think. Clearly, I’ve underestimated the correlation between calorie consumption and a 14-year-old’s metabolism. Mr. Bo Jangles needs to ingest food in 4-minute increments or he’ll die of starvation. Inevitably, he runs to his gym bag when I’m distracted or between drills and returns with a mouth full Twinkie.
“Mr. Bo Jangles, if you’re going to choke and die, I’d rather you not do it at tennis practice. Please (pause for emphasis), stop eating.”
“Yes, Mr. Bo Jangles.”
“Can I eat while we do this drill?”
“I’m not moving. We’re just sitting against this wall here.”
“Fine.” He rolled his eyes and I added an extra 3 minutes, which I do with them. Thank you.
Today, I was quite pleased with Mr. Bo Jangles’ progress. I only had to ask him to step away from the gym bag once at the beginning of practice. About halfway through, I saw him chewing. It didn’t look like gum.
“Mr. Bo Jangles?”
He swallowed. “Yes?”
“Were you eating?”
“Yes.” He hadn’t been to his gym bag in at least 40 minutes.
“Where did you get the food?”
Mr. Bo Jangles put his hand in his shorts pocket and pulled out a few strips of Beef Jerky. They were linty.
“Can I have those?” I asked.
He handed them over and now my hands smell like beef jerky. Practice continued and exactly 4 minutes later, I caught our friend chewing again.
“Mr. Bo Jangles?”
He looked down.
“Where are you getting this food?”
He looked over at his friend. “From Joe Bob Harry.”
“Mr. Joe Bob Harry, are you providing food for Mr. Bo Jangles?”
He nodded and pulled two handfuls of beef jerky from both pockets.
“Is anyone else smuggling beef jerky in their pockets?”
Every team member handed me a wad of beef jerky covered in yellow tennis ball lint. Every single one of them. And every one of them ran laps.
This has been the greatest difficulty, but I’ve loved coaching them. They don’t make fun of me when I completely miss a ball or use toddler vernacular on them. Tennis players “play clean up” quite nicely. They’ve actually educated me on some new terms the kids are using these days. Just yesterday, for example, I’d asked them to do what I called during my extra-curricular stretching tenure, the “butterfly.” We sat on the ground, placed the soles of our shoes together, and pushed our knees to the ground. I leaned over and put my forehead against my shoes.
“Yes, Mr. Bo Jangles,” I said into my shoes.
“No one really calls it the butterfly anymore.”
“What do you call it?” I asked, raising my head.
“The crowd pleaser.”