Written by Aileen Evans aka “Coach Boz”
So often, as women, we are told that we have to choose between two worlds: Either you are a coach, or you are a mom. I am here to tell you that is just not true. As a mother of three young children, you can do both!
I started my journey to parenthood after a blindside pregnancy loss at 13 weeks in my seventh year of coaching. My husband and I found out we carried a rare and serious genetic disorder, and started IVF that fall. That season was really, really hard. I was taking multiple injections a day of hormones, I was stressed out, and my anxiety was peaked. But through it all, I coached.
In many ways, the stresses of IVF and coaching actually helped with the eventual transition from “we’re trying” to “we’re parents”. Coaching helped focus and ground me on days when I just wanted to give up and throw in the towel–curl up into a ball and cry. It was a release space for me, the time of day where I did not have to think about IVF–I could just coach field hockey. After all was said and done, my son was born in July 2017 and I took my first season off—the first August since I was twelve that I was not on a hockey field.
Fast forward to the next summer, brand new season and a one year old who was a terrible sleeper. The decision to continue coaching while being a first-time mom was not easy. There were many people in my life who told me I was crazy.
I remember the questions such as, “How will you teach all day…coach…then come home to a one year old and have energy for him? What about your house? Your husband? He’s just going to watch the baby while you’re off coaching? You’re nuts. Just give it up, you don’t need to coach.”
I remember being told by my athletic director that I was always welcome back to coach, but that most women chose not to after having kids. It made me feel like if I decided to coach, somehow I was being a bad mom. Being an athlete my whole life, I was trained to give 110% every minute of every practice and game. I was the Unsung Hero of my college field hockey team two years in a row–the word “quit” is not in my vocabulary. On top of that, I DID need to coach. I needed part of my identity back that was NOT “mom”.
As women, we transition into this world of motherhood and so often we are just expected to let go of who we were before. There is some truth in that, and a lot of growing up that occurs once you have children—but it does not have to be “all or nothing”. I thank God every day I was an athlete because it has helped me balance the parent/coach load by allowing me to put into play all the skills I learned over the years as an athlete: Mental toughness, goal setting, and the ability to self-motivate.
Fast forward another three years and I conceived twins through IVF, still coaching the whole time. This pregnancy, however, was different. Instead of coaching through the pregnancy, as planned, my doctors told me I was very high risk. This time, I had to be told by those that I loved (including my head coach) that I should not attempt to coach, that I needed to step back. My “never quit” mentality was fighting logic, and that can be a struggle when you are a mom who coaches. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, you don’t want to quit—to me it proved everyone right that I shouldn’t have even applied for the position.
Missing that season was harder than when I had my first son because I had seen other women coach pregnant, why couldn’t I? I was tough. I could handle it. But it wasn’t about being tough, it was about being safe and doing what was right for the twins…even before they were born. So the coach and athlete in me needed to be benched, the kids came first. In the end, my twins decided they were ready to be born at 27 weeks and the literal hardest part of my life began. Three months at the height of the 2020 Covid Pandemic…with twins fighting for their lives in the NICU, plus a three year old at home. Writing about it now, it seems surreal. Coaching was the last thing on my mind.
After my family got through the twins’ hospital stay, I took the year at home to manage all their therapies and catch them up to their peer age group—again the athlete in me took over. When I came back to work, my head coach and I had a conversation about what I would do that summer—was I coaching or not? I was so humbled and appreciative that she even wanted me back. Here I was, a mom of now THREE very little kids. She knew our situation, but she trusted me as a friend and fellow coach. She trusted my expertise in the sport, she trusted my ability to balance both. And I trusted her to understand where my priorities would have to be if my kids needed me throughout the season.
And so, I stepped back out onto the field, my fourteenth season.
Did I miss bedtimes? Yes.
Did I miss soccer practice for my oldest? Yes.
Was I late to dinner some nights? Yes.
Did I have to leave practice early to pick up sick children from daycare? Yes.
Was I late to a few games because the boys just needed one more hug before I left? Yes.
I tried not to look at any of those times as failures, things I wasn’t doing—but rather what I was accomplishing during the season. My goal has always been to be a role model for my young female student-athletes, and I know that my continuing to coach while having kids showed them that as women we CAN balance both and do the things we love while still being a parent.
Oh! And I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with my FOURTH, a girl! She will grow up seeing her mother work, coach, and be her mom. Hopefully one day, she will have the opportunity to do the same.
If you are a woman who is an athlete or a coach with children or thinking about having children, here is my advice on how to navigate the road ahead:
Prioritize the hats you wear.
We are mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, working professionals…we all have so much going on, so many to-do lists, so many people we do not want to let down. If you choose from the start to think of your “jobs” in a hierarchy of importance, and truly stick to it, you will take tremendous pressure off of yourself. I know I am a mom first, that’s a non-negotiable. My kids will always come first.
Find your “people” and lean on them when you need to.
I was lucky enough to coach for fifteen years with several amazing women who understood my priorities and that if I was late to a practice, or had to leave early, it was not because I was lazy or did not care—it was because my kids needed me. I was never punished by these women, I was supported by them. It made all the difference in the world.
I can tell you that there were days I would show up to practice on three hours of sleep because the kids were sick, having taught a full day of English to special needs high school students—my cup was EMPTY. Instead of living the “fake it till’ you make it” mentality, I was open and communicative with the coaching staff AND the team. I asserted I would do my best, but that I would need some help to get through it. I’ve since been told by many of my student-athletes that they appreciated my honesty, that it made me more approachable and human, that they were less afraid to communicate to me when THEY had bad days or came to practice running on empty.
** In April Aileen welcomed the newest member of the family-baby Shea.