The Accident That Is My Life’s Work

By Kevin Cooke, Head Coach, Mercyhurst College, @MercyhurstWLAX

Ever wonder where a coaching career gets started? For many, it is probably fostered by a high school or college coach that sees something in an individual and helps that person reach the ultimate goal of becoming a coach. For others it happens over time, playing a sport that they love and wanting to give back in any way that they possibly can. For me, it was completely by chance that I had the opportunity to get involved in coaching the sport of women’s lacrosse.

     Photo courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletics.

In my senior year at R.I.T. I was asked by some of the members of the women’s lacrosse club team for some guidance. Having no coach, they asked me to come to practice and tell them what I thought. So, having been invited, I went.

I watched the players warm-up, I watched them go through a series of line drills. Everything up until that point seemed normal to me, it was what all lacrosse teams did. The team then started a 3 v 2 drill where the goalie cleared the ball to the top middle group, every time!  Again, it seemed normal enough and as I continued to watch they continued to do 3 v 2’s. They finished their two-hour practice and did just one drill.

In asking me what I thought and what I might change, I had to give my honest opinion, and I told them just about everything had to change. They needed more drills, they needed some conditioning, and honestly just some overall structure. When I had mentioned to them my thoughts, they handed me a whistle and gave me the practice schedule.

This ought to be easy I told myself. The players have lacrosse sticks, they have a ball and a 6’ x 6’ goal, what more could a coach need? One practice later I found that many things that I thought I knew about lacrosse, a sport in which I played for several years, was for all intents and purposes, different. The idea of 3-seconds, shooting space, a stick with no pocket, and no body checking, made my mind spin a little. Having a great group of players and leaders from the club team, I was able to pick up on the rules (I would love to say quickly, but it was far from it) as the first game grew closer. Even then, having several practices under my belt, being on the sideline of the first game I knew that I had a lot to learn.

I remember the first game like it was yesterday. We were scheduled to play Ithaca’s JV program at Ithaca. The team and I piled into our cars and traveled the 100 miles from Rochester to Ithaca. The team didn’t win (sorry to disappoint the fans that thought I was able to win the first game I ever coached in) but I did learn quite a bit that day. Most importantly, I learned that having a mentor, or at the very least a person you could call if you had a question, was invaluable. For me, it was Andrea Golden (Ithaca’s Varsity coach at the time) who became that person. The first valuable lesson that she taught me was that you couldn’t call a timeout until after a goal. She and I stood side by side for a good portion of the first half and my team needed a timeout desperately and I kept looking over to her and asking if we could call one, and her repeated answer was “no.” Then their team scored what seemed like their 100th goal, and she looked at me and said, “now you can have your timeout.”

Now looking back almost 25 years later I have seen the game of women’s lacrosse grow and develop into the game that it is today. Ever evolving into a sport that has adapted to its players’ increasing skill levels –the game is something that a casual fan enjoys and can appreciate.

Many of the changes to the game would more than likely make a newer generation player appreciate where the game is now. The addition of hard boundaries and restraining-lines, instead of watching mass chaos with 11 players for each team in front of the goalie and referees determining out-of-bounds by the nearest tree-line is a major improvement. One of the bravest rule changes that I was originally opposed to in the early going was the mandate to wear eyewear. After several years, like any person thrust into change, I learned the importance of the change and how it would benefit the whole.

I also think that 25 years in the world of women’s lacrosse has taught me a thing or two as well. First and foremost, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and have fun with coaching. Many times, when talking in front of a group of people or talking with friends, they ask the same question, “Is that all you do is coach?”  I normally respond the same way, that I get to wake up every morning and do something that I love. It is not often that people can say that in life. That they enjoy waking up every morning and truly love going to work.

Here’s my advice for younger people thinking about entering into coaching: You will dislike the long hours, you will dislike the fact that your budget is never enough, you will dislike the fundraising, you will dislike the time away from your family; but you will love your colleagues in the coaching world, you will love the bus trips with your players, you will love the wins, and you will love your job!!!!!

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