EDMOND, Okla. — Lisa Polcovich sat in a chair in her office. Finishing a sip of a green concoction in a Panera Bread cup, she shared the brief and rough culmination of all her parenting knowledge:
“You’re not a reflection of your kid’s ability,” the head coach said. “They really just want someone at their game.”
Polcovich’s grasp on the relationship between successful parenting and sports was insightful. At the time, she was speaking about what her relationship with her daughter would look like this time next year.
But splitting the chair with her in the alcoves of Deer Creek’s P.A.A.C. was the newly-committed, Deer Creek Volleyball team captain and makeshift Panera Bread delivery driver Teagan Polcovich.
Teagan and Coach Polcovich have been locked in a grueling duet ever since Teagan was 12 years old. At the time, Polcovich — a former collegiate volleyball player at the University of Florida — had already turned Deer Creek Schools down once over an open head coaching position. But then, something felt different.
Citing a Christ-led desire, Polcovich took the school’s second offer. And ever since, she and her daughter have navigated two relationships simultaneously. At home, balancing the sometimes difficult, sometimes grandiose relationship between a teenager finding her path in the world alongside a consulting and guiding mother. On the court, two fierce competitors linked together by more than just the color of their jersey as they look to take that last step into the final season together as teammates.
They enjoyed each other’s company on that Monday in late July by mimicking mannerisms. The only noticeable difference between the pair was their hairstyles — Coach Polcovich’s neatly flat-ironed down, Teagan’s momentarily down featuring a few curls at the tips until the second practice of the day caused her to throw it up into a ponytail. One could say their similar versions of picture-perfect hair were immediately indicative of how they’ve managed the last 18 years together.
“We set boundaries right away,” Polcovich sternly said. “Because we knew what the dynamic could become. I coached her like any other kid, but I also knew once we left the gym there was no more talking volleyball or whatever sport our kids were in.”
Polcovich spoke on the rigid boundaries she herself follows as a parent and as a coach. Time and again it was clear that she had an idea of how her parenting duties should go, and nothing outside was going to negatively impact her relationship with her daughter.
Polcovich said she learned the boundaries from deep experience during Teagan’s club volleyball season. Watching her daughter play at Oklahoma Peak Performance in Oklahoma City, Polcovich learned to be “just another mom.”
As Polcovich was answering questions, though, Teagan was absent. Given clearance for a bagel following Creek’s week-opening, two-a-day practice, Teagan was to return after Polcovich had already answered all of her questions. That meant when Teagan returned — with the Panera Bread concoction destined for her head coach in hand — she was locked into a weird and twisted version of the Newlywed Game. Of course, they matched almost all of their answers.
But then came the first — and only — dissenting answer.
“It’s difficult at times,” Teagan said, stating she sometimes feels like she has to work harder than the rest.
This, she said, is despite all the personal and coaching rules the pair have set in place because Teagan’s afraid outsiders might think her mom treats her favorably.
“But it’s really nice because we can talk about volleyball at home and strategize together,” Teagan said.
Immediately, Polcovich looked at Teagan.
“That’s funny, I told him we don’t talk about volleyball at home,” she said.
Towards the end of the visit, both Polcovich and Teagan would admit they sometimes feel like they can read the other’s mind. And, at the time, it looked like Polcovich already knew Teagan’s answer would differ before the question was even finished. Even though it contradicted what Coach Polcovich had previously stated, all it needed was a little bit of explanation.
There was now a front-row seat to the dynamic of their relationship. Polcovich had these sets of rules, and they were ironed straight. She herself wasn’t going to break any of them, just like she doesn’t when she’s at home in an admitted effort to provide a safe spot away from Teagan’s hyper-competitive volleyball scene. Teagan followed them, too. But just like the curls at the bottom of her semi-straightened, picture-day hair, she expressed she wasn’t afraid to talk to her mom about whatever was on her mind — regardless of the venue.
“I’m probably still going to come to her for advice about volleyball,” Teagan said. “She’s been at the D1 level so she knows.”
Polcovich is ready to give that advice, too, come this time next year when Teagan is playing collegiate beach volleyball at Missouri State University. It’s not coming unwarranted, though. Teagan has to ask first.
Very excited to say I have committed to play DI beach volleyball at Missouri State University. Thanks to all my coaches and teammates throughout the years, and a huge thanks to my parents for everything! Go bears!! pic.twitter.com/R2vMkOrYaC— Teagan Polcovich (@t_polcovich) June 20, 2019
The discussion immediately displayed a concept that Polcovich coaches into her family: Being a good teammate. At the start, they had two conflicting answers to the same question. But really, they were saying the same thing. It took good effort, and it took good attitudes to understand they were on the same page.
“We’ve had many lessons about being a good teammate,” the coach said. “Those are the things we really try to teach.”
The relationship between the pair might be unique to most, but both Polcovich and Teagan have seen how to manage the draw successfully.
Dad and son, Kevin and Kaden Polcovich had to be the examples. Teagan’s father and older brother — Lisa’s husband and son — had already navigated the coach-parent dynamic.
In fact, Kevin was in the minor leagues while they were expecting Teagan in September 2001. He’d play professionally for 12 years – 10 in the minors and two in the bigs – after conquering the Cape Cod Baseball League when he was younger.
Now, Kaden sits in that same league as part of the Chatham Anglers.
The father-son pair moved together much alike Teagan and Coach P. In fact, Kevin ended up on the coaching staff of Kaden’s 10U team, the Oklahoma Rays. Ten of the 12 athletes on that team went to play collegiate baseball. Another chose the University of Oklahoma for basketball.
Both Coach Polcovich and Teagan said they learned from Kevin and Kaden.
“Kevin and Kaden have always had the baseball thing, Teagan and I have always had the volleyball thing,” Polcovich said, stating that the boys were more bullish while the girls are just as competitive but less confrontational. “I think it probably pushed Teagan. Everyone wants to compete against their sibling.”
Teagan agreed, stating that she learned just how important every aspect of sports is while watching her older brother and father.
“I’ve learned hard work from both of them, I’ve also learned to do the little skills things and how important those are,” Teagan said.
When Teagan learned that her mother was going to be her head coach — just like Kevin had coached and impacted Kaden’s standout baseball career — she said she was ecstatic.
“I was actually excited because she was going to get to come watch me every game,” Teagan said.
Since then, volleyball has been enjoyable because of their inclusion. Both Teagan and Polcovich mentioned some of their favorite memories being together: Playing pranks on each other at team camps, basking in the high and lows of competitive sports, and watching Teagan’s meteoric rise in just her second year of competitive beach volleyball.
Both agreed it wouldn’t be as fun without the other, ending July’s talk with a hypothetical: How would they feel if they weren’t paired together?
Both answered immediately and identically. Two reflective statements that proved just how similar they are, and just how much they care for each other.
“We’d dread it.”