In my 15 years of coaching collegiate athletics, I have been accused on a few occasions of playing favorites. I want to take this opportunity to own that label, and to describe in detail the qualities of my very favorite players, because I want to be authentic and own my faults.
First of all, my favorite player understands that playing collegiate athletics is one of the greatest privileges in this world. She knows that my coaching staff had the opportunity to recruit hundreds of young women from her class, yet we chose her. She is grateful for the opportunity to step on the field each and every day, and she is proud to wear the name of her college emblazoned on her chest. She respects those who came before her, and she understands that her ability to play is based on her physical abilities. She cherishes each day that her body allows her to run, catch, and throw, and recognizes that injuries have taken some of the best out of the game. So, she spends time doing stuff that will help keep her healthy, like foam rolling and stretching on her own time. She knows that being a college athlete has an even lower percentage than being a college graduate (12.9% of young women who play lacrosse in high school are given the opportunity to play in college, and only 2.9% play at the D2 level, compared to an approximate 59% college graduation rate) and she acknowledges that each day through her actions on and off the field.
Along with being grateful for her opportunity to play college lacrosse, my favorite player is humble. She may care about her stats, but she doesn’t live her life based on what the box score says. She works hard to help her teammates look good by supporting and encouraging them whether she is on or off the field, in addition to doing whatever she can to help our program look good. She realizes that she is not the only person on the team, and knows that her successes on the field directly correlate to the abilities of the amazing women with whom she has the opportunity to play.
My favorite player is both coachable and a lifelong learner. She knows that each of her previous experiences make her who she is on the field, but understands that there is always room for growth—on my team, we try to be 1% better every day—and she makes sure she is, whether that means making a better pass, moving her feet to grab a catch, or cheering on her teammates more loudly than the day before. She takes criticism with a nod of her head, and sometimes with a, “Thanks, Coach,” because she understands that the role of a coach is to build on her current strengths while providing extra knowledge and experience, which she knows will ultimately make her a stronger athlete. She asks questions like, “What can I do to get more playing time?” or “Can you come to practice early so I can work on my saves?” And she does our required readings and offers comments during classroom sessions. She understands that part of being on this team is having strong character both on and off the field, and she works hard to show that she both understands and values that.
Being there for her teammates is a no-brainer for my favorite player. She puts the team first and does what she can to help everyone on the team, whether that’s on or off the field. She helps her teammates with their studies if it’s in her wheelhouse; she offers to go to the field on days off or before practice to help with game play; my favorite player is the person anyone on the team can call on when they are experiencing a breakup, an injury, homesickness, or a bad grade on an exam. But in addition to being a great friend, my favorite player holds her teammates accountable to following team rules. She understands that we are only as strong as our weakest link and knows that reputations that were built over years can be destroyed overnight. She wants everyone to represent the team in the best possible way, and she is not afraid to address that with her teammates.
My favorite player is a woman of strong moral character. She stands up for her beliefs and doesn’t back down because someone disagrees with her opinions. She has goals and knows that she has to work hard to achieve them… and don’t worry, she’s not afraid of the hard work. She believes in the power of positive thinking, she is authentic, both trustworthy and trusting, she goes the extra mile, and she is dedicated to this program and our process. She knows that working off the field is just as, if not more, important than anything we do at practice, so she always does her wall ball. And she encourages her teammates to have strong character as well.
Another important quality of my favorite player is her high level of responsibility. I know I can trust her with the ball during the last minute of the game; she will protect it, she will shoot it, and we will all know she did the very best she could, because she never gives less than her best. My favorite player is not late for team functions, unless she has a valid excuse and has contacted me beforehand. She goes to all of her classes, and gives her best effort even in classes that she doesn’t like. If she is late, breaks a team rule, misses a team function or class, she doesn’t make an excuse; instead, she recognizes that she made a mistake and takes full responsibility for her actions by coming to talk to me or my staff. If and when she has to face a consequence, she takes it and moves on. She does not hold a grudge against me or my staff for her consequence, and therefore we respect her even more. She allows me to move on too, by not holding a grudge against me or our rules. She knows that if she’s not playing she might need to spend some extra time on her own to get better at some aspect of her game, and she knows that because she’s already asked, “What can I do to be playing more?” She is driven to succeed, and nothing is going to stop her. She is fearless and strong, and open to new experiences. She embraces change because she understands that staying stagnant has never made anyone a better person or athlete. And she is going to see success in all aspects of her life.
Finally, my favorite player understands that her coaches are humans. She takes the time to come into the office to get to know us, she asks us to grab lunch with her in the café, she asks us about our experiences in college and life. She knows that taking that extra time to get to know us also provides us with time to get to know her, and she believes that knowing a person is to understand them. She knows that this extra time spent will help her to better understand us as people—what sets us off, what makes us laugh, what our fears are. And that’s the secret… it’s not about the wins and losses at all. The secret is, life is all about the relationships you build and how much you value them. Even in college athletics.
So, there you have it. The truth! I feel so much better getting that off my chest, because it is important to be honest and open with my feelings. To all my favorite players past and present, thank you for making me a better person and coach… and thank you for the laughs and tears we shared. I will cherish those moments all my life. And to all future college athletes, study this list. You will be happy you did, and so will your future coaches.