When I close my eyes at night, my mind races as I reflect back on the day. On game days the reflections often keep me up. What could I have changed? Was the game plan what it should have been? Did my team execute the way they could have? Why are we turning the ball over so much? I should really talk to Sally tomorrow. Let me text her. Wait, it’s 11:00pm. She’s not thinking about the game right now. I’ll text her in the morning. Just close your eyes and go to sleep.
A few minutes later, I’m out. The day has officially gotten to me, and now I have 8 hours to forget my worries. Or, do I?
4:00 am rolls around and my eyes open with fear once again. Why did a team I believe we are better than beat us? That’s on me. How could I have let my team down?
In my ten years of being a head coach I have had two real breakdowns I can remember, and both of those breakdowns occurred after my team lost a game I truly believe we should have won.
The first one was around eight years ago when I curled up in my townhouse and started crying. It was late at night and we had just lost a game by a goal. At the ripe old age of 27, I had only been a head coach for a couple years but I still expected more from myself. As the tears fell down my face, I kept asking myself why I chose a profession that could make me feel this bad about myself. What am I getting out of this job? What am I putting into this job that matters?
The second breakdown occurred last year when we once again lost a game I know we should have won. It was on me, and I truly believed I had let my team down. As I walked off the field to find my family, I didn’t stop to talk to parents or friends who had come for the weekend to cheer us on. I scooped up my three year-old, asked him to give me the biggest hug he could, and kept walking toward my office. I was fighting back tears I knew would eventually surface, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable around my two boys who looked up to me.
When I got inside, I told my boys to color while I sat down in the hallway and cried. We lost a game by a goal that we should have won, and I felt like a failure. I knew I had to show face at our tailgate, but I wasn’t ready.
When I made my way downstairs, I was immediately approached by a father of one of my seniors. He gave me a hug and with the sincerest look in his eyes told me how grateful he was and will forever be for the impact I made on his daughter’s life. He stood there with watery eyes thanking me and complimenting me as a person and a coach. What better way to make a person cry than to say all the right things when they feel all sorts of wrong? I sprinted out of the room and went back into hiding while I collected myself.
Why did I feel like such a failure? What was it about the day that made me feel that way?
A few days later when I had moved on from the loss, I began to reflect. I leaned on my best friend, a fellow coach, and reached out to a mentor. I thought about my role as a coach and asked myself the simple question, “Why do I do it? Why do I coach?” A majority of my friends who started coaching when I did have already left the profession for one reason or another. So, why am I still here?
Over the last few years I have had more parents thank me for making their daughters better people and for helping them grow into mature young women. I have been a shoulder for them to lean on and an open door for them to come into any time they need. I encourage them, support them, push them, challenge them and help them believe in themselves because down the road, this is what they will look back on. No matter how good or bad our season is going, I never give up on them even when it’s hard and even after a tough loss.
Coaching isn’t only about the wins and the losses. If you treat your players and your job like every little piece matters, then your team will play for more reasons than just the win. In the end, that’s what matters.
I can grow in my profession by learning from my mistakes, but I will never change when it comes to my expectations of my players. I expect them to be disciplined, respected role models. I expect them to be our future. I treat each and every player I coach as if they are my daughters. Ironically, I’m old enough to actually mean those words, but I care about the athletes they are on the field just as much as the young women they are off it.
When I see another team push us to the ground so they can get an upper hand, or be disrespectful on the sideline, I look back at my team and smile because I know my role as a coach is to make sure my players respond in a mature way. That’s what I am putting into this job.
It helps to hear a reminder from a parent, coach, former player, or someone you love about why you matter as a coach, but those reminders don’t always make you change your mind about yourself. Wins and losses are permanent, and it’s hard not to judge yourself when things don’t go your way.
For the coaches out there who don’t see the results they want on the field, you matter. And, it’s important to reflect back on the reasons why.
I can tell you firsthand that 15 years after leaving Syracuse, I only care about the outcome of a handful of games we played. But, everything else that made up my four years in college is what made me who I am today.
I coach because I love my team, the families I recruit, my family, and the two little boys who will always love me no matter what when that clock hits zero.