One Lesson I Learned as a Coach
Five years ago, I was coaching my last season of girls’ travel basketball. I had been coaching this particular team since most of the players on the team were in the third grade. Now, they were eighth-graders, and it was their last year in the program. Amelia was on this team, and that is how I became a coach. They were a wonderful group of young woman. They laughed, played hard, and were a joy to coach. I looked forward to every practice and game because they were so much fun to be around.
We were not having much success that season, but now we were in a very close game with the score going back and forth. While my girls were fun, they were also very tough. If there was a loose ball, they were going to get it. They played hard defensively and worked well together. They were a scrappy and determined group.
This particular game was against a very good team, but we were giving it our all. Basketball can be very intense, with every possession being important. I turned to talk to a player on the bench when I heard the ref blow the whistle. I turned and saw one of my players down on the court crying. I rushed out and took a knee next to my player and looked at her closely. Her eyes were filled with tears and her face expressed pain. She was sitting down right on the half court line. I asked if she was hurt, and all she could do was shake her head no. I paused, and then I asked if she could breathe, and she shook her head yes. This was now officially a mystery. She continued to cry. I hesitated and finally just said, “What’s wrong?” She looked at me, paused, and said through sobs, “I’m playing so bad.” I smiled and said, “Let me help you up.” I got her up and walked over to the bench with her. I sat her at the end of the bench, and for the next ten minutes, I just sat next to her and we talked. My assistant coached the rest of the game.
She had been playing fine, but she thought she was not doing well. We talked about what is important and that it is a game. I told her that she was doing great and that she should not worry about a mistake, because we all make them. We just sat and talked. I looked over at her parents in the stands to let them know she was OK, and then we continued to talk. She calmed down and we actually had a few laughs. That team ended up winning the Metro West championship as an underdog in every playoff game they played in.
I do not remember if we won or lost that particular game, but I do remember that moment. I had not thought about it for years until I got a note from that player yesterday. She just wanted to say hi and ask how I was doing. It was a pleasant surprise, and it made my day. This young lady was a favorite of mine because she was so kind and always worked so hard. Now, many years later, I heard from her again, and we caught up about how college was going for her and how life was treating her. What a great gift to hear from her!
There are moments in life that can affect us forever. On that day, on a basketball court, a young lady was giving all she had and thought it wasn’t enough. Through our shared experience, we each learned that a game is just a game, but friendship lasts forever. If we give our best, then we have done our job.
As an aside, that team went 0-12 during the regular season—our only losing season in the five years we played together. We lost three very good players just before the start of the season and were in a higher division. We never lost a game by more than 10 points, but could not win. Every team makes the playoffs, and we were big underdogs going in. We won our first game of the season, which was also our first tournament game. We never lost another game, upsetting the #2 seed in our next game and then winning the next two games in blowouts to win the Metro West Championship. That player had a big part in our winning.
Life is sweet!