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What I Learned from a Roller Derby Queen

After writing my blog about leadership lessons I learned from the 2019 U.S.A. Women’s Soccer Team, I kept reflecting on the impact of women sports teams and their coaches which led me down the path of my first athletic team coach.

Photo by Chris Bojanower
Photo by Chris Bojanower

After writing my blog about leadership lessons I learned from the 2019 U.S.A. Women’s Soccer Team, I kept reflecting on the impact of women sports teams and their coaches which led me down the path of my first athletic team coach. 

I attended a co-ed Catholic grammar school in Chicago where sports were generously offered to the boys from early on: football, basketball, softball, floor hockey. Girls, of course, were offered cheerleading for the boys’ teams. 

As one of the male alum said,  “The boys had it all.” 

Until…seventh grade.  And then, the wide world of sports was open to girls through volleyball. I loved this game. I loved everything about the sport. The team playing, the dance between stepping up and stepping back, the skill and practice it took to get good at the game and the competition with other schools. One of my best friends was on a competing team. They beat us but I still like her.

Yes, I loved volleyball, but what I loved most was what I learned from our coach, Mrs. Schilling, a former Roller Derby Queen (she deserves the capital ‘Q’). 

Sports taught me the strength and gratitude for my body. One of the few things I did with my Dad as a little girl was watch roller derby on Sundays. I especially loved watching the women. I admired their physicality and stamina. Mrs. Schilling was one of those women and her modeling being fully in her body was invaluable to one who was never taught to appreciate what our bodies were capable of. 

Never give up. Coach Schilling had arthritis from her derby days and through it all, she was always there for us even when her pain was severe. She just kept going.

What you don’t see you cannot be. One of my teammates got a full university scholarship playing volleyball, played in the USVBA for 12 years and moved on to coach a girls team. As she said, “None of this would have happened without the girls’ program at St. Edward’s.” 

Practice does not make perfect. Mrs. Schilling was challenged with so much from 7th and 8th-grade girls who had never played this sport before. She told us, “The truth is, you will never be perfect, so keep practicing.” She was right. We never were perfect. 

Feedback is invaluable. Mrs. Schilling was generous with feedback as all coaches are. I learned to take any feedback she gave as it was for the sake of improving us as team leaders, team players, and individuals. 

One person does make a difference. If it was not for her, a whole generation of girls would not have been exposed to sports. 

I am forever grateful to Mrs. Schilling for her lessons and the love she provided a bunch of Catholic girls just figuring out the strength in their bodies and in their character. 

What are you modeling for others? 

Written by Pat Obuchowski

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