Teamwork is the key to a balanced life in a family full of competitive athletes


POSTED: Friday, May 08, 2009

Mary Shoji typically shuns the spotlight. The lifelong athlete is perfectly content to deflect attention to her husband, University of Hawaii Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji, and sons, Stanford University volleyball standouts Kawika and Erik Shoji.

So when Kawika, a 2006 'Iolani alum, and Erik, a 2008 Punahou graduate, were named first-team All-Americans this week, reporters naturally gravitated to dad for a reaction. He seized the moment to laud his wife, saying “;please give credit to their mom.”;

A slightly bemused Mary Shoji, 46, agreed to share her approach to balancing family, career and personal goals, all the while insisting that “;I'm no expert.”;

She has lived on Oahu for nearly 30 years, having arrived in 1980 from Fargo, N.D., to play basketball at the UH-Manoa. She married Dave in 1986, and embarked on a physical-education and coaching career as he guided the UH women's volleyball team and they raised their family in Manoa. As the boys grew, she or Dave coached them in “;everything”; — basketball, soccer, volleyball and baseball — before school athletics kicked in.

Now that all “;the kids”; are in California — Kawika is a Stanford junior, Erik a freshman and stepdaughter Cobey, also a standout athlete (Punahou '97, Michigan '01), is director of operations for the Cardinal women's volleyball team — Mary has increased her volunteerism and begun new hobbies. She continues to work as a middle-school P.E. teacher at Punahou School.

Question: What qualities did you try to instill in your sons?

Answer: Certainly, to have a depth of character, integrity, a strong work ethic. I think their success depends on who they are as people, besides being blessed with some athletic talent along the way… I think as a family and certainly from Dave's background and experience, we really focused on humility the most, and the team, rather than the individual.

Q: What about them reminds you of yourself?

A: Both Dave and I ... are competitive (so they get that from both of us). Kawika is a more emotional leader, more vocal, and I played a lot like that in high school and college. Erik is more characteristic of Dave in that he is a quiet leader ... They probably are more so like Dave in that they hate to lose, really hate to lose. ... I used to be like that, but competing against my own family, I could never win!

Q: How did you handle competition within the family, especially with one son at Punahou and one at 'Iolani?

A: There's no question that as they grew older and started competing in high school against each other it was very difficult, even more for us as parents than for them, I think ... As spectators we learned to watch with a poker face and celebrate the good plays on either side, but it was never easy.

Q: How did they end up at rival schools?

A: We placed them in separate schools at kindergarten, without thinking so much about the competition aspect, but based on who they were at that time. It turned out ... it was probably the best decision we made for each of them. The challenges were more for us as parents.

Q: How did you juggle the demands of parenthood, your job and Dave's?

A: I don't think I ever thought of it as juggling, it was just our life. It was about setting priorities and making choices ... our family always came first.

Q: Do you have a family philosophy?

A: I kind of had a motto for us, that we would always try to “;play together, pray together and eat together.”; That's sort of the three keys to us as a family.

Q: As a P.E. teacher, how do you motivate kids who are not as athletic or as interested in sports?

A: Physical education is not really about being an athlete; it's not teaching kids to be the best volleyball player, or the best tennis player. It's about encouraging kids to find some activity that inspires them to stay active their whole lives. Sport skills is certainly not the focus. It's about getting active, and staying active. We work hard to expose kids to a variety of activities in hopes that they will find something that they like and will continue to do.

Q: Do you have any tips for parents striving to help their children become scholar-athletes?

A: Not tips. I would never say tips, because I'm no expert. We've been blessed, partly by the teachers that they've had, the schools that they're in, and the kind of people that they are. We've been very fortunate that our kids were very, very focused from Day One. I can't take credit for that ... I think being active in sports, they really had to manage their time, and at home we provided support and boundaries and expectations in terms (of academics).

Q: This Sunday will be your first Mother's Day as an empty-nester. Any plans?

A: I knew when that happened that I was going to have other opportunities to fill time, so Sunday morning, I will be ... a docent for Malama o Manoa's (walking tour of historic homes). And I know that Dave and I will also spend time with his mom.

Q: With your children grown, have you set new goals for yourself?

A: I have taken up stand-up paddling and racquetball and I'm volunteering at the Next Step shelter once a week. I took a year off from coaching and I think I will get back into that. I would love to go on a medical mission as a volunteer. I have made a commitment to try to find ways to help others.