Dropping the Ball: When Leaders Cause Fumbles

Football season has officially started. I actually know quite a bit about the sport. One thing I know is that when a fumble occurs, everyone tries to jump on it.  A lot of fumbles happen because the person carrying the ball, usually gets grabbed and it falls loose.  However, there are some occasions when the quarterback, the leader of the team, is the one who drops the ball; he’s the one who is guilty of the fumble.

A couple weeks ago in class I “dropped the ball”. I fumbled.  I was teaching my students, I had my lesson all planned out, but going into it, something wasn’t right that morning.  Something about my mindset and attitude.  I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I could’ve been.  And unfortunately, it showed.  I was not on top of my game that class.  I was out of sorts and just “not having a good game”.

As the quarterback of my class, I can’t afford to drop the ball. My students depend on me to make the right calls at the right time.  They look to me to guide them and execute properly.  It all comes down to the little things.  If a quarterback throws the perfect pass to a wide receiver, who is completely open with no coverage, the QB expects him to catch it.  He has a job.  If he isn’t doing the little things right in preparing for the game, chances are a fumble is going to occur.  Me dropping the ball in class that day came down to exactly that…ME.  It wasn’t their fault.  It came back to me.  It was my most well-behaved class, too (go figure, right?!).  I didn’t bring my A-game that day, so neither did they.  There was honestly no one else to blame for them being a little more ornery that day.  They jumped right on my fumble!  The only reason they weren’t as good as they usually are behavior-wise, is because I wasn’t as good as I could’ve been, teacher-wise.

I hate when people make excuses. For anything.  Missing homework.  Tardy to class.  Late to practice.  Anything.  I try my best to not make excuses because I want to model self-discipline to them.  I’ll be the first person to admit my mistakes.  At the end of class we had a little heart-to-heart and I said to them, “Okay, today was probably the worst day we’ve had together as a group.”  And there was a girl, at a back table, and I saw her nod her head in agreement.  Even she knew it!  She knew what her and her classmates were capable of.  And I knew what I was capable of.  I told them, it was me.  It was because I dropped the ball.  I wasn’t as prepared as I could’ve been.  I was doing the little things wrong.  I didn’t perform as best as I could’ve.

I’ll quote my Facebook status from that day: “One thing I’ve learned as a teacher and a coach is that usually when my class or team is having a rough time, and they’re just not “with it”, I can trace it back to me, as their leader also not being “with it” at the moment. Good thing I still have 5 more hours to get “with it”!” (September 3rd)

I truly believe that people will rise to the expectations set by the leader. But the leader has to have high expectations for themselves, too.  One of the best things about being a professional educator, is that even though I get paid for teaching, I’m learning, too.  About myself.  Daily.


Comfort Zones and Double Knots!

chucksSo there I was… sitting in church the other night and one of my friends bent down and noticed my shoelaces.  They were doubled knotted.  I went on to exclaim that double knotting my shoes as an adult isn’t that uncommon, that a lot of people do it.  (I did however have a moment of doubt and thought, What if everyone else stopped double knotting their shoes a long time ago and somehow I just missed the memo?!)  But that wasn’t the case.

It’s really been stirring in my head the past couple of days, and the fact that I’m currently teaching different types of figurative language to my sevies has made it all the more madness in my mind.  That’s when I began to ask myself, “Dolen, why do you still double knot your shoes?”  And I’ve tried just tying them normally.  Just one little bow-tie.  But I can’t seem to do it!  It drives me nuts knowing that at any moment my shoelace can come undone.  I don’t feel as safe…

Which brings me to the topic of comfort zones.  Everyone has them.  At church, we tend to sit in the same spots.  At school the students congregate to the same group of friends.  As adults we develop habitual routines (or maybe that’s just me?)  But we all have comfort zones for a reason… because it’s where we’re most comfortable! 

Comfort zones can be good and bad.  For example, the fact that I double knot my shoes is a good thing.  Because I know I won’t trip and fall (if I do it’s not because of my laces).  I know my shoe won’t come off.  I know goofy little people won’t be able to bend down and untie my shoe just so I have to tie it again.  Double knotting my shoes is part of my comfort zone.  Comfort zones can keep bad things from happening to us!

However… living in our comfort zones can also prevent good things from happening to others.  If we get too comfortable as Christians, we might forget to see the bigger picture: 

  • What if we miss an opportunity to witness to someone because we were too nervous? 
  • What if we didn’t pray for our meal in front of our peers because of looks we might get? 
  • What if we didn’t invite someone to church because we were afraid of getting rejected?

A lot of these instances could have to do with the fact that they’re juuust outside of our comfort zone. 

As Christians, we have to break out of our comfort zones sometimes.  Matthew was a tax collector; he left his booth (his comfort zone) and followed Jesus.  Paul left his comfort zone of persecuting Christians, and became one himself!  I’m so so thankful my soccer teammate in college didn’t stay inside of her comfort zone; she shared the Gospel with me. And it was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Like I said before, comfort zones can keep bad things from happening to us, but also prevent good things from happening to others.  Hmmm…

Until next time! 

Life is Like Interval Training

So there I was, thinking about soccer… Well, more specifically coaching soccer.  And I got to thinking about how I condition the players.  I’m a firm believer that interval training works, if done properly.  Change of speeds and distance covered.  I think interval training is one of the most successful types of conditioning for soccer players.  That’s why I have my players do it a lot.  They probably hate me.  But they’ll thank me later!  (I had a senior who graduated in 2013 text me and say thank you for making her condition so much during soccer because she went running one day and someone asked if she ever did cross country.)  It was after she graduated but hey, I still got a thank you.

Back to interval training.  My two favorite types to make the girls do are 15-30-45’s and 120’s.  For those of you who don’t know, during a 15-30-45, they sprint for 15 seconds, then jog for 15.  Sprint for 30.  Jog for 30.  And finally sprint for 45 seconds, and then jog for 45 seconds.  No walking.  No resting.  And then… we go back down.  Sprint for 45 again, jog for 45.  Sprint for 30, jog for 30.  Sprint for 15, jog for 15.  And that’s just one set.

The other one I mentioned is called a 120.  The girls have 20 seconds to sprint the length of the field (120 yards, hence why they’re called “120’s”).  And then 40 seconds to get back.  So they basically have one minute to get down and back, but the first leg is a sprint, the way back is a jog.  And they have to do it in the allotted time.  They do five of these.  It’s pretty rough.  For them anyway.  I mean the only rough part for me is yelling how much time is left and blah blah blah.  Strenuous on the vocal chords.

But with interval training there’s an important part.  A key component.

To let your heart rate come down a little bit so you can prepare for the next round.  My girls love the rest part.  Obviously.  Actually they love the part when it’s over.  They get a one minute rest between sets.

But I was thinking about it today, and I realized that life is like interval training. We go all out sometimes, a full sprint ahead, then maybe we find a steady pace, but if we’re not careful we’re going to burn out.  If we don’t have that much needed rest.

I’m the type of person, I’m always on the go, especially when school starts back up (like it did this past week) and then again when basketball season and soccer season start.  I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t take a little rest, I won’t be at my best.  My friends won’t get my best.  My family won’t get my best.  My students and athletes won’t get my best.  My job won’t get my best.  And God won’t get my best.

And that’s unacceptable to me.  Sometimes, all we need is a little rest and we will find ourselves motivated and rejuvenated; ready to go and give it our all.  I’m thankful for a God who loves me the same when I’m at my best and at my worst.  But He definitely deserves my best.

So Until Next Time…

P.S. There’s a difference between rest and just being pure lazy and a sluggard.

Think Before You Post: My Advice to the Freshmen (and anyone else at that matter)


It’s crazy how in one year things can change so much.  A year ago I was giving advice to my former students telling them to always carry gum because they’d make lots of friends.  Ha.  Now, I have different words of advice.  My best advice to my former students this year, my little babies, who are going off to the high school is  be careful what you post on social media.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  Snapchat.  And whatever else there is nowadays.

Photos:  Make sure they’re appropriate. Gentlemen, no one wants to see your abs (or lack of abs).  Ladies, no one wants to see your inappropriate skin.  That’s just asking for trouble and rumors.  Don’t give people reasons to talk about you. 

Status updates and posts: Don’t call people out on Facebook or Twitter. Seriously?  (I’m giving the squinting look of disapproval right now.)  That’s practically asking for drama. And trust me, anyone in their right mind doesn’t want to be involved in drama. It’s a waste of time, energy, and emotions.  Don’t give people reasons to talk about you.  Just because you don’t use someone’s name doesn’t mean it’s a secret!  People are smarter than you think.

(Speaking of drama, they have a class for that. It’s called theater or at some schools, it is indeed called drama.  But no where on a schedule will you find the elective called Facebook.)

People will see what you post, whether it’s a photo, a comment, status update, tweet, or whatever, even the things that you “like”. And you WILL be perceived in a certain way.  For example:  If you “like” someone’s status about them wanting to get high or whatever, people are going to think that you like to do that kind of stuff too and that you’re okay with it.  When you “like” something online, or retweet something, or favorite something, essentially what you’re doing is agreeing with it.

You don’t want people to talk bad about you?  Think before you post.  Don’t give them a reason to!  That’s something I’ve repeated over and over throughout this blog entry.  You don’t want people to judge you?  Again, don’t give them a reason to.

“Well, I don’t care what people think of me.  They can’t judge me.”  Wahh, wahh, wahh.  Ummm,  yes they can and yes they will.  And yes… you do care. Everyone does. It’s normal to want to be accepted. Don’t lie to yourself.

Social media isn’t some sort of secret community that stays online.   It’s brought into the classroom, hallways, locker room, field, court, church, home, etc.  Unfortunately, it affects people throughout the day. Keep social networking positive. You will either make or break someone’s day. And at the same time make or break your personal image, your reputation, and how people see you.

As I was going back to revise and edit this post, I realized I guess this blog entry can actually apply to anyone… Hmm.

Well, until next time…

Devastating Moments

lockerAs a teacher, I can tell you the most devastating moment for seventh graders.  The first day of school.  It’s even devastating for me, because I have to WATCH them be devastated.  They all look like deer in headlights.  New school.  New teachers.  New type of schedule.  Passing time?  What’s that?!  Everything is new…It happens every year…

The students go to their I-Block class (first class of the day, I guess you could compare it to homeroom).  As a teacher we face that awkward first-day-of-school silence and in the back of my mind I can’t help but think, “I give this two days.”  Because, well, you know how middle schoolers can be.  Silence is not in their gene pool.

So I meet-and-greet them; try to make them feel as comfortable as possible; but I try not to smile too much, because after all I want them to be a little intimidated haha.  And then I talk about my classroom expectations as they stare at me in complete silence, almost as if they’re looking through me, not even at me.

And then it happens.

Locker practice.  Yup.  I take my students out to the hallway with all of the other seventh graders and their teachers, and we attempt to open lockers.  They’ve never had lockers before.  They don’t even know how to use a combination lock!  And it never fails, I always have that one student who just can’t seem to open their locker, and they’re on the verge of tears, whether they’re a boy or girl.  And they ask me for help, because that’s what I’m there for.  And I do it.  Get it open, easy as pie.  And I explain and show them how to do it… overand overand over… because they still can’t do it.  This goes on for about five minutes, and then finally they master it!  And there’s a huge exhale of relief and smiles going around.  Because by this time everyone has gathered around to watch.

But then you have another student.  There’s one left.  The one that I haven’t had a chance to get to yet.  The quiet one.  Who others noticed couldn’t get their locker to open and even they tried, but they couldn’t succeed either.  And so I go over, ready to work my super-teacher magic. Popping my knuckles in my mind.  And disappointingly, I can’t get it either.  And the student looks at me with puppy dog eyes as if to say, “Mine is the only one that won’t work?”  And I make attempt after attempt.  But still fail.  And then I have to disappoint them and say, “I’ll have to let the office know your locker number so they can fix it.”  And the kid is so embarrassed.  I can see it on their face that they just want to cry, but they won’t because, well, they’re in seventh grade now.  Goodness, it breaks my heart to have to break their heart.  So I try to divert everyone’s attention by heading back into the classroom to transition to their next class.  In the meanwhile I write down their locker number on a post-it so I can get it to the proper person to get it fixed.

This is one of the most devastating moments a seventh grader faces hands down.  And I have to witness it every single year.

The funny thing about this is as an adult it seems so trivial.  Because we face different types of devastating moments as we get older.  Ones that make not being able to open a locker seem like just a miniscule bump in the road.  But to that seventh grader, that bump is like a giant boulder laughing in their face as it blocks the entire road.

I think it’s important as adults when we face devastating moments to relax.  Take a deep breath. Maybe seek someone to try to help you through it.  Will that person always be able to help?  No. They might try.  But they might not have an answer.  But I know someone who always will:  God. Know that in the end everything always works out, not necessarily as we planned, but it still works out.  The locker eventually gets opened.

There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Friend’ Part 2: Idolatry

As a coach, it drives me nuts when I know teenagers are choosing to go play in (or watch) a soccer game on a Sunday morning rather than go to church, yet say that God is their #1, hoo-rah and yada yada.  I love that my players love soccer.  But not at the expense of where they’re missing church for a silly game that doesn’t even really matter in the bigger scheme of things.  And then  they put “God. Family. Soccer.” on their social-media byline underneath their username, like a list of priorities.  Makes me cringe!  But as adults, we do the same thing. We give off a particular “byline” when people see our lives.

Today I asked some of my friends, “What’s something you’ve been guilty of putting before God?”

And I got a load of responses: Own desires (like having a busy day), sports and other extra-curriculars, boyfriends, family/kids, sleep and slothfulness, approval (caring about others’ opinion more than God’s), Pinterest surfing, serving so much at church that the relationship part with the Lord would falter and because of that there was stumbling, fitness, work, a good book, finances (not giving to God first when they know they should), school and homework, social media (checking Facebook, Twitter, etc. before reading God’s Word),  laundry, watching Netflix, and lots more!

And then someone texted me back and said, “Do you have an idol?”

Which brings me to this current blog entry.

Something in my life I’ve placed above God would be friendships.  I was actually convicted about this issue last summer (I grew and learned) but now even more so this summer (time for more growing I suppose!).  I’ve been guilty of spending more time thinking about my friends than I do  about God.  Ouch.  It’s gotten to the point before, when friendships consumed my thoughts more than God did!  That’s embarrassing!  Not only to admit it, but the fact that it’s even true.

I could easily try to justify that it’s not a bad thing.  Well, when it starts affecting (or is it effecting?  I have no idea, and yes I’m an English teacher) Anyways, it is a bad thing when it begins consuming you.  Who would’ve thought friendships could become idols?  We might try to come up with reasons why it’s okay, but in the end, anything that consumes you, your mind, and your time, and holds a higher esteem than God, becomes idolatry.

Me placing friendships above my relationship with God  makes it idolatry.  I’m not just talking about choosing to hang out with friends rather than spend time with the Lord.  I’m talking about something more than that, deeper than that:  the consumption of thoughts, feelings, and emotions with friendships, taking precedence over God’s reign in my life.

Maybe it’s different for you.  Maybe you’re not committing idolatry with friendships.  And kudos to you.  But if your life had a “byline”, what would be first?  Better yet, if we’re being honest, what would others say is probably first?  Oh!  Or even better than that… what would God say is first?  Hmmm.

I read a quote last night that said,  “Idolatry is really not good for anyone. Not even the idols.”  And that my friend, is so true.  Friendships won’t be successful when there’s selfishness involved (read the previous post).  And they definitely won’t be successful if there’s idolatry either.

Welp, until next time…

P.S. Thank you to everyone who shared with me and was open and honest toward my question!


There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Friend’ Part 1: Selfishness

I have some of the weirdest dreams.  Just ask my friend Elizabeth, I tell her all of my dreams, and she would probably agree.  Last week I had a dream and in it I was arguing with someone about how to spell the word ‘friend’.  And the person yelled at me and was like, “THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN FRIEND!!!”  And I yelled right back, “YES THERE IS!!!  F-R-I-E-N-D!!!”  And we went on arguing about how to spell the word.  And then I woke up. 

When I woke up I was thinking about it.  And how it applies to my life right now.  And maybe the person in my dream was right to an extent.  So I decided I’m going to write a two-part blog about friendship and I’m going to try to prove how there really isn’t an ‘i’ in ‘friend’.  Or at least… why there shouldn’t be.

You’ve probably heard the old phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” And after the dream I had and the lessons I’ve been learning this summer, I would say that the word ‘friend’ should be the same way.

One of my goals in starting this blog is to be transparent. So I’ll just say it: I’ve been guilty of being selfish when it comes to friendships. And this summer God has really brought it to my attention and I’ve been trying to work on it. I’ve been learning a lot about myself and some things that I need to change about my personality, when it comes to being a friend. Sometimes it hurts to grow and change, especially things about our personality. But I’m thankful I have a merciful God that helped me recognize my selfishness rather than someone else blatantly pointing it out to me. Because that really would’ve hurt. And God loves me too much to leave me the way I am.

I’ve been selfish in ways that I never intended to. And I never even knew it. That is, until recently. A few weeks ago I started to examine myself and tried to get to the root of some problems and why I was feeling the way I was and it came down to the fact that I was being a selfish friend. Not in the, “I want this, I want that!” kind of way. More of an internal selfishness. Subtle, but definitely there.

I’ve had a few friends in my super-long 27 year-old life that are selfish and often only cared and only talked about themselves. Which you can tell by basic conversations. Because when they ask you about you, it feels kind of forced. 

Unfortunately, at the same token, I too, have been selfish. Let me tell you how: I’ve always wanted the most out of my friends and that’s not fair to them. Especially if we’re on different levels and in different stages of life. I can’t expect a friend who has a family to be available all the time. I can’t expect a friend who works full-time to want to hang out after work. Or to always respond to my text messages and phone calls. A coach of mine once told me, “Kristen, the only person who will ever meet your expectations is YOU.” And that’s true. I can’t expect people to meet MY expectations.

Selfishness can ruin a lot of things. If you want a friendship to last and be successful it’s important to not become selfish. Imagine if Jesus decided to be selfish. He probably wouldn’t have died on the cross for us. I’m thankful He chose to be selfless.

I challenge you today, when you text someone, to not use the word “I” at all in your conversations. It’s hard. But maybe it will open your “eyes” (pun intended!) to how selfish we humans can be and how often we think about ourselves.

So in closing, I’ve decided if we were to spell the word ‘friend’ without the letter ‘i’ it would still sound the same:  FREND. And it would make things a lot easier

Until next time…

Not Every Phone Call is a Bad Thing!


So there I was, last night, laying in my bed at 12:26 a.m., and as many know, way past my bedtime.  I’ve been wanting to start a blog for awhile now, a little over a year, and I’ve attempted to but I just haven’t found a solid foundation of what the theme of my blog should be.  I want to write about so many different things:

  • Teaching
  • Coaching
  • Jesus
  • Being single
  • Being a Christian single
  • Living in a town where your closest family is about 7 hours away

Lots of things.  I suppose life in general.  I’ve actually always wanted to write a book but I figured no one would be interested in my life.  But I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot to say.

So let me just start with something that involves a few of those things all in one.  It’s a memory I have from my second year of teaching.  My mom always told me, “Kristen, you should keep a diary of all the things that happen to you while teaching.”  I’d love to.  But I don’t have much time to sit down and write.  Thankfully, right now it’s summertime, and I’m bored out of my mind so this one goes out to you, Mama Dolenator!

In my second year of teaching, which was definitely one of my favorite years so far (in my veteran four year teaching status, going on five), I watched an inspirational video about teaching.  Well I took a little something from that video and decided to give it a try.

What did I do?   I’ll get to that in a minute.  First I have to tell you what I saw and heard a student say.

So there I was… (I tend to start awesome stories with that phrase, I picked that up from one of my lit professors in college, Dr. Pearce).  Anyways, SO THERE I WAS…

It was probably the second month of school and the day was over.  I was walking through the hallway and I saw some students in the library for Math Club.  I saw one of my students, EG (I’ll just use initials to be on the safe side), sitting at a table in the library, doing the math work, or what looked like math work anyways.  This student, she was a pretty popular student.  Well I saw her sitting there, and then I heard EG say to another female student who was standing up looking for somewhere to sit, “Hey you can sit with me.”  I don’t remember who the student was that didn’t have a place to sit but I do remember I was in awe because that student wasn’t somebody that was very social, she probably would’ve sat alone had EG not invited her to sit by her.

It sounds simple, but this kind gesture was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen a student do.  Especially someone like EG.  A student who was popular and often misunderstood, and who had a history at her previous school of getting into trouble.

So that’s when I decided to bust out my move from the inspirational video I had watched.  I went back to my computer in my classroom, and looked up the student’s home phone number and attempted to call home to tell her parents that I’d seen her daughter do something so noble.  Well when I called no one answered.  So what did I do?

I drove to her house.  I remember walking up the driveway planning in my head what I was going to say about EG.  I knocked on the door and my student’s dad answered.  I extended my hand and I said, “Hi, I’m Ms. Dolen, your daughter’s Language Arts teacher.”

He shook my hand and gave me a confused look.  And without hesitation he asked me, “What did she do?  Is she in trouble?”

I looked at him and smiled and said, “Oh, no no no no! I just wanted to tell you that I saw your daughter do one of the nicest things today.  There was a girl who didn’t have anywhere to sit and she invited her to sit at her table.”

He looked at me in shock and couldn’t believe that his daughter would do something like that!  And shame on me, but I didn’t see it coming either because a couple weeks prior to this I had to stop a typical-teenager girl spat that involved his daughter.

Well we stood outside talking for a few minutes and he was sharing some concerns about his daughter, and then EG came home.  She saw me standing on her porch and even she was confused as to why I was there.  Her father and I actually played a trick on her and said she was in trouble, but then we told her the truth.   J

They invited me inside and I got to sit down and talk with them for a little bit.

Looking back, a few years later now, it’s true what they say, you know… on those cute little teachery-quote signs:  “They might not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”  That’s part of why I became a teacher, I had some great teachers and coaches that made me feel great.

Well, the next year, her 8th grade year, I got to coach her in basketball.  The summer before her freshman year (last summer, the summer of 2013), I’ll never forget the morning she texted me and asked me if I would come over to her house with my Bible and talk to her about God.  To this day she still talks to me on a pretty regular basis whether for advice or just to talk.  I was nervous for her to go to high school but she matured quite a bit and it’s been awesome watching that.

So if you were to takeaway something from this memory hopefully it’s one of these things:

  1. If you’re a parent: Don’t underestimate your child. They will surprise you and do and say things that seem unnatural. Not every phone call (or home visit) is a bad thing! Will they make mistakes? Yes. Will they disappoint you? Yes. But there is STILL good in this world! There is STILL hope!
  2. If you’re a teenager: Do something nice for someone! I bet that girl that got invited to sit down felt wanted. And also, be aware that people are watching and listening to you. Hearing and seeing that happen reminded me of part of the reason as to why I got into teaching.
  3. If you’re a teacher: Praise, praise, praise. Don’t be afraid to compliment a student to their parent whether it’s via email, phone call, or a home visit. It will probably make the parent’s day AND the student’s day.

So this was my first official blog post. It was kind of all over the place, but I promise it made sense inside of my massive brain. I’m still not sure where this blog is going to take me but I’m excited for the journey.

To the people who ask me, “How do you get to talk about God and share your faith with students?”

Pray for your students.
God will provide a way.
God will open doors.

Until next time…