You made me a better person and a better coach. Even on the days you drove me crazy, because you certainly did that, you were really pushing me to problem-solve, consider all angles, and figure out how to motivate each of you individually…for the betterment of the whole. Not a bad day at the office.
As a former player, I realize most coaches try to hold on to what was. The glory days. I didn’t have many of those as a player. As a matter of fact, I had way more good days watching you on the sidelines than I ever had during my playing days. I was a slightly-above average player and I was able to muster a DIII college career out of that. As the granddaughter of a pro basketball player, that left a lot to be desired (but I blame my unathletic, 4’11 grandmother for that!). It just goes to show that us average players have a place, somewhere, when the dust settles. I happened to find mine coaching you.
I have worked on basketball staffs at the University of Louisville (then, in the Big East…now, in the ACC), Centre College (DIII), Burgin (a teeny-tiny school in my hometown), and East Jessamine (a low-income school with one winning season in its history). Each experience taught me something new about the game – but the most important element of the game remained the same: you. Each and every one of you – from the most talented superstar who got all the credit and shouldered pressure that most people never realized, to the player on the end of the bench who barely got to play but came in every day and gave it her best because she loved the game that I loved.
It was always about you.
Individually, you worked to improve your craft – and collectively, you all joined in the cause of winning. Each of your unique personalities converged, creating a completely new, often complex, team every year. But somewhere along the way, what you really became was better people. Better teammates. Better leaders. Better winners and better losers (losing with grace is an art). Whether you realize it or not, your toughest times are what made you who you are, not the best ones. The best times – the big wins, clutch shots, and successful seasons are the stories that will pepper your conversations and walks down memory lane for the rest of your lives. But the times that made you who you are, the ones where you were mired in muck, running, diving, bruised knees, swollen ankles, playing through adversity, surviving my on-the-line’s, failing…but always beginning again – those are the quiet moments that helped shape your success – in basketball, in school, and in life. They may not make for the best stories, but without them, you don’t have the big wins, clutch shots, and successful seasons. Remember that.
It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters.
You have heard that a million times, right? Well, there’s a million and one…you’re welcome. It is the truest statement I have ever made to you. Resilience and grit are two ingredients in the recipe to success that are most often overlooked by the folks on the outside. Mainly because they are not as flashy as the others. Some who do not know any better may call those of you with those qualities head strong or hard-headed – but to me, you’ll be the ones who succeed. I love a girl with some sass. Takes one to know one.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank your parents. While they might get on your nerves sometimes (I’m sure they’d tell you the feeling is mutual), the truth is they supported you, cheered for you, and drove you all over Creation to play this game. I’ve fielded more phone calls from them concerned about you than I care to divulge. Together, we would piece stories together and figure out how to get you back on track. It really does take a village. Their familiar faces filled the stands night in and night out, but there were also the parents who were more absent than present. I respect them just as much as the ones who were always there – because I knew they were working odd hours making a living for you. They’re teaching you about hard work, too, whether you realize it or not. Most of you have amazing parents and you’ll realize that one day…probably when you have your own little athlete that you’re driving all over Creation to play sports (when you’re 30…and not a day before!). I’ve picked their brains for my own parenting advice and often think of how I can be more like them because I admire the daughters they’ve raised. They taught me a lot, too. But, it’s no secret, there were some bad eggs. There were a few who came after me relentlessly – not just with the goal of ending my coaching career prematurely – but after me, personally, and my family as well. For the daughter of the middle-aged man who wanted my job, I hope I showed you how to fend off sexism with grace. For the daughter of the alcoholic who barged in to practice to yell drunken slurs at me, I hope I showed you to be professional in less than ideal circumstances. And to the daughter of the board member who abused her power and violated her oath of office in an attempt to ruin my career, I hope I taught you that good always prevails, even when there is an imbalance of power. In any case, I can officially say: Game. Set. Match. I won.
Because just as your toughest moments made you better, so did mine. When it would have been easier to walk away, I stayed. And I stayed for the faces in the locker room because it was the right thing to do. I decided to build a program where there had never been much success, and by-God, I’d leave when I was good and ready.
103 wins and four consecutive, record-breaking, winning seasons later, and I can say that I am good and ready.
I have accomplished so much more than I ever could have imagined I would as a basketball coach. And that is thanks to you – the faces who brightened my day, gave me hope…and headaches… and more hope for almost a decade. Together, we won more games than any team in county history, we were the first 20-win team, and we shattered more records and glass ceilings along the way than I can even recollect. We re-wrote the record books. Literally. Of course, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to – only one team gets to go out with a win. But you were special. All of you contributed to something bigger than yourself and you’re a better basketball player, teammate, leader, and person, for it.
I am stepping away from coaching for the time being – for no other reason than I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish – and so much more – and it’s time to re-evaluate. Just like you, I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I am sad that it is over. Truly, I am. And I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe I’ll get back in to coaching. Maybe I’ll be governor one day. But I do know that I will take a little piece of each one of you with me as I go…your faces, your smiles, your tenacity, and your kindness. The lessons you taught me are priceless, and they made me the person I am today.
You made me better.
I hope you can say the same.