The Coaching Bag/Backpack/Satchel

In the next several months it will travel to Texas, Washington D.C., Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and every county in North Carolina that lacks decent cell phone service.  It will be forgotten on team benches, left in hotel rooms and various convention centers, and abandoned on a bus after a 7-hour ride.  It will narrowly avoid coffee spills, be unceremoniously dropped into Gatorade puddles under the bench, and probably knock an iPad out of the hands of an unsuspecting mom standing between courts 184 and 185.

Oh, the stories my coaching backpack would be able to tell … if it could only talk.  Come to think of it, if it could talk I’d ask it where it put 84 clipboards, about $52.14 in loose change, and every favorite pen I’ve ever owned.

I might joke with my wife about her shoulder-strapped Bermuda Triangle, as she searches for a 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, spilling an assortment of restaurant mints, sunglasses and old Target receipts in front of an increasingly agitated line of shoppers who are resignedly looking for a register line without anyone holding a purse.  She doesn’t always see the humor in it, and luckily she doesn’t know that my coaching backpack is 10 times worse …

See, I put a lot of things in my coaching backpack but I rarely take anything out of it, which is understandable after stumbling home late Sunday night after 4 days of the convention center pressure cooker.  As the season reaches its midpoint, my backpack accumulates an overwhelming assortment of coaching accoutrement.  To open it would risk a stretch of bad luck (don’t change anything during a winning streak) or, after a difficult day of pool play, a cloud of coaching demons emerging to melt my face (à la Raiders of the Lost Ark).

My backpack only gets cleaned out when it surpasses the 100-lb threshold.  I know it’s there when I struggle to lift it off the bench when switching sides, and eventually decide to leave it there “in case we go to three.”  Yeah, I’m that coach.  Sorry.

I’ve found many unusual things in my coaching backpack, but the low point was the discovery of a several-month old banana last season.  It’s a testament to the space-age sealing power of a Ziploc that it had escaped undetected, but I handled the extrication of this potential environmental disaster with the delicate precision of a hazmat/bomb squad.  In case you’re wondering, a banana that is several months past banana bread stage is well into the fermentation process, but unfortunately does NOT turn into a banana daiquiri. (Or anything that tastes remotely like alcohol. Yes, I tested it. Scientific discovery requires personal sacrifice.)

The following items allegedly may have been recovered during my recent backpack exorcism:

  • Lineups for last year’s team, apparently just in case any of them want to come back and rejoin this year’s team. This is akin to keeping notes from an old flame – I’m constantly in fear of this year’s team finding them and turning on me in a fit of jealous rage, however, throwing them into a trash can just seems wrong.
  • 3 laptop chargers, all for the same laptop, all carried along with the hopes of getting some work done during tournament downtime … yeah, right.
  • The 2009 USAV Rules Book, with the Beach rules ripped out. (Sorry, but does anybody actually read the Beach rules? Don’t we just roll with local custom and folklore?)  For old-timers, we recognize that the 2008 version of the rules are probably more accurate than last year’s book.  I mean, our blockers’ relationship with the net has experienced more on-again, off-again drama than Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.  I’m guessing we’ll be reinstating the serving zone again next year, and my 1995 rule book will be a hot commodity.
  • Over 40 “collectible” ink pens from purveyors of distinguished writing implements such as Embassy Suites and Marriott. Little known fact: hotel pens immediately stop working when you remove them from your hotel room, but you only discover this when you have 12 seconds to enter your lineup.
  • 5 bags of goldfish. I don’t know when I got them, but they tasted just fine.  Much better, in fact, than a 3-month old banana.

There is one sacred space in my backpack that never gets cleaned out: the mysterious “grab bag” pouch of whatever was in my pocket at the end of the day and transferred to my backpack in case of emergency.  Therein lies a coaching treasure chest of hotel key cards, mints, tissues, spare change, pre-wrap and athletic tape, lineup cards, old-school stopwatch, cough drops, wristbands and luggage tags, Starbucks gift cards with $.34 remaining on them, Gatorade chews (yes, I know they’re “just for the athletes”), loose pieces of gum, college coaches’ business cards, hand sanitizer, old broken whistles, long-expired Excedrin migraine pills, miscellaneous lanyards, medals, Eastbay discount coupons, Chapstick, and random pieces of candy.

Protecting this treasure is a variety of handshake gift pins from over the years (thank you Munciana and Borinquen Coquí) that have long ago lost their backings and lie in sharp, pointy anticipation for any unsuspecting hand looking to steal a spiral mint from a Chevy’s restaurant in Texas that closed in the early 2000s.  Luckily, if you fight through the pain and keep digging there are probably Band-Aids in there too.

I’d ask that if you find the above-described backpack during the season please return it to me when we switch benches.  It’d be great if you can clean it out first … but save me the goldfish, just in case we have to stay late for our pool’s 3-way tie.

-Jason Curtis

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