As I was thinking about what to write for this blog entry, it came to me. Every year, I sit down with the parents of my incoming class and I talk to them about the expectations we not only have for their daughters, but for them as well. This meeting is full of moments where we laugh, smile, and parents hold back the tears of realizing their little princess is about to leave the nest. During my second year as a Head Coach, I changed my message, and talked to my players’ parents about the life lessons that my parents taught me.
Before I share the secrets of the Duffy household, you need to understand a little about my family. My parents are truly the best! When people ask me about my role models, hands down, it is my parents (although there are a few others, like Karen Hollands and Miriam Esber). My parents have made me the person I am. I grew up like a lot of the players that we see walk through our doors: sheltered and slightly spoiled. However, my parents did not hover, fight my battles, or get involved. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I really started to understand the lessons my parents taught me and my sister. They cared, they guided, and they scolded (spanking was a thing), but the biggest thing is they allowed us to make mistakes and they held us accountable for them. My dad was a teacher who dealt with parents on a daily basis. My mom was a family law attorney. She saw amazing parenting and parents that cared more about themselves then their kids. They took what their parents had taught them, and what they saw in life to shape our lives.
Here are some life lessons that my parents have taught me that I use with my players’ families, and still use in my own life.
- “What did you do to deserve it?” This was the line my mom used on me constantly. Whether it was a fight I picked with my sister as a little kid, to me calling in college about why I got yelled at, called out, or not earning playing time in college. In my early years (again until I was about 25), I use to get so mad at her, potentially even abruptly ending my phone call with her. However, she was right. Her point was, what didn’t you do today that you could have done, or done better?I tell my incoming parents that they will get these types of phone calls frequently from their daughters. I suggest they help them look at themselves first before they put the blame on someone else. It doesn’t have to be a long line, but “What did you to do deserve it?”
- “Care about their families, like they’re yours.” My last two years of college and first four years as a coach was spent with my dad in and out of hospitals. It was stressful and he was my rock. My first three years as a head coach my dad was retired and I called him every day on the way home from work. We would only talk briefly, but I remember one day talking to him about my senior year in college. My parents weren’t able to make it to one game or even my college graduation as my dad was waiting to get a double lung transplant and my mom was splitting time between Massachusetts and Minnesota. He told me how much it meant to him and my mom that my college coach (Miriam Esber, Holyoke) copied every one of our game films for them and gave it to them. Thank you Miriam. He reminded me that distance from your child can be tough, and that I need to be humble and understanding. There is a time and place to drop what you are doing to be there for your student-athletes and their families. You are an extension of the family while the player is playing for you. Little gestures go a long way towards earning the parent’s respect and trust; especially when their daughter or a family member is facing a big issue, like surgery or illness.
- “Establish your boundaries.” I was young when I became a head coach and I looked even younger. I had plenty of parents that thought they knew better than I did how to coach my team. My dad and I talked after a high school game I coached where at half time I got screamed at under the bleachers by a dad for not playing his daughter the same amount of time as I played another player. My dad’s first reaction was to laugh at me and say “welcome to working with minors.” I had a feeling this had happened to my dad many times as a teacher. We then had the conversation of setting boundaries for parents and players. He reminded me, just like the boundaries they set for my sister and I growing up, if you don’t have boundaries for the people you are around, you will always be at risk for being taken advantage of. It sounds awful to say this, so we keep it simple in my program. We give both our parents and our players a handbook. Our parent handbook is simple and allows our parents to also see that we want them to visit. It includes things like places to take your kids when you come visit, hotels, contact information of people on campus, and one paragraph about our expectations of them. It’s clear and to the point. We won’t talk to them (the parents) about any decision that involves playing time or any aspect of our program. We highly encourage their daughters to come talk to us and we emphasize that to our players as well.
- “College is what you make of it.” I had two major knee surgeries before I even entered college and it made me change the direction I was going in. I ended up in Oneonta, NY much further away from my family and friends than I wanted to be. I spent the majority of my freshmen year home sick, wanting to transfer, and going home. I remember I told my mom on Friday that I was going to be home after practice. She told me to not even think about it, that she would lock the doors if I came home. She warned me that if I didn’t go out and make friends then I would never be happy. In my efforts to try to convince her that it wasn’t a me problem, but that people didn’t like me, I got quickly dismissed and was instructed to call one of my teammates and invite myself to lunch. I was awkward and quite shy as a freshmen, didn’t like the drinking scene, and was unsure of my academics. But she had a point: it wasn’t the institution, it wasn’t my team, it wasn’t the distance. If I didn’t change my approach, it wasn’t going to be any different, no matter what school I attended. My mom has made me understand that I needed to be in charge of my own happiness. People will impact it, but what choices I made would influence my own happiness.I find more and more students are transferring after one year, with a “the grass is greener someplace else” mind set. We remind our parents that change is tough and sometimes it takes longer than a year to adjust. We ask them to be encouraging and see what else is going on instead of just hearing “I’m not happy at my institution” from their daughters. It will be like their first job. They may not be happy at first (it’s a big change!), but if they just walk away they will be unemployed! We talk to our parents about that first phone call home and how they handle it and handle the emotions that come with it as well.
Coaching is a tough job! We have to manage a lot while making sure we find that balance of teaching our players how to work hard, be tough, manage life responsibilities, and ensuring that they are happy and healthy. My last piece of advice comes from a lesson I stole out of Miriam Esber’s book. Care and be there for your student-athletes, both current and past. My dad died when I was 25, and midway through my dad’s wake I saw Miriam walk through the door. It meant so much to me and my family that four years later, she still followed and cared about us. The little gestures go a long way. My mom still talks about Miriam and that moment. It will be something my family always appreciates. You can’t be everything as a coach, but you can always remember to be a human. I love lacrosse, but there is a time and place to check it and remember the bigger things in life.