Just the other week, I wrapped up coaching Ultimate Frisbee at Beaver Country Day School. Coaching there is not only a lot of fun but is also deeply meaningful and plays a significant role in my book.
If you are at all familiar with storytelling principles, you may have studied, or at least heard of, something called The Hero's Journey. It describes a circular pattern that many stories follow, especially mythic ones. I won't go into great detail about it, but the basic idea is that the protagonist starts in The Ordinary World before receiving a Call to Adventure. Then, with the help of a Mentor, the Hero leaves the world of the familiar and enters the special or magical world. After the protagonist has gone through a tremendous Ordeal in the extraordinary world, he or she Returns Home with The Elixir, a treasure or piece of knowledge that will benefit the ordinary world.
In Chapter 1 of my novel, my character starts as an average American high school student on spring break with his family. A few months later, he receives a call to adventure when he learns of the existence of his birth family. He then travels to Central America, a world that seems special and magical to him, and has a grand adventure.
While most of my story matches the structure of the Hero’s Journey, there was one stage that I struggled to nail down, and that was The Return. I knew I couldn’t use my character’s return to the United States to represent this step because he travels down to Central America and back throughout the book. I also knew I couldn’t use the house he grew up in because he is no longer living there by the end of the book. So then, what physical location could I use as a metaphor for this stage in the journey?
At some point, I realized that I could use my job as an Ultimate Frisbee coach to fulfill this story beat because I was returning to the high school I attended as a kid. With this in mind, I created a scene where my character reconnects with an influential teacher and recounts his adventures. I hope that this scene will allow the audience to see how much my character has grown and will bring the story full circle.
It also occurred to me that coaching allows me to fulfill another important role in the Hero's Journey, and that is of becoming The Mentor. When you think about it, mentors are really just hero's who have returned home to share what they have learned, and that is exactly what I do every day when I teach my students about the game of Ultimate and of life. In some ways, working at Beaver is like jumping in a time machine that allows me to visit a younger version of myself, and reminds me of who I was before my life was turned upside down.