No amount of coaching experience, game film, online modules, championships or awards can prepare you for that moment. Sitting alongside thirty of your talented athletes in a stuffy overcrowded church, as they watch through tear filled eyes, their friend being laid to rest. Looking up to you as they do on the field, this is heartbreak that cannot be fixed with a timeout or any grand halftime speech. The devastation of this moment will forever alter the role you play… both on and off the field.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment. There is no schooling that prepares you to console a roomful of young adults, trying to make sense of something you yourself cannot wrap your head around.
Tragically, this reality is no longer rare, as suicide is the second leading cause of death in college age students. While we, as coaches, spend each day and night meticulously preparing them for the fight of their lives on the field, it is easy to overlook the daily struggles they are met with off the field. Caught up in a world of anxiety, depression, stress and peer pressure, the student athletes of today tackle much more than just the sixty-minute game clock.
Exactly ten years ago, an organization was born out of a community’s need for answers… for power over this situation that rendered them so powerless. Following the devastating loss of a player’s younger sister, our team needed a way to feel supportive. Lax-4-Life came into existence to meet that need. This collaborative effort, gave them that connection. They were able to continue doing what they loved… in playing the sport of lacrosse, and in doing so, helped raise money that continues to assist foundations in finding the answers. Playing for the cause helped start the conversation, provide support and directly help those in need.
Lax-4-life, Inc. became a National campaign geared toward raising money and supporting programs that raise awareness and identify teens at risk. This organization became important to my players to put their efforts into something they could control. Not only did it give them an understanding of how to help those at risk, it afforded them a platform by which they could utilize their athletic talents to honor lives taken too soon. Dedicating Lax-4-life games throughout the season showcased the unbreakable bond between friends, family, and players alike. Though nothing can fill the emptiness of that life lost, these games give back to those who have lost so much, through condolences, support, and unwavering love. This organization is able to continue the conversation about suicide as well as provide training to those who impact adolescent lives, in the way only a coach can.
Yet again… as we opened our 2019 campaign, West Chester University was left in the wake of tragedy of another beautiful life lost, only years after it began. With the season opener around the corner, emotions quickly shifted from anticipation to agony. We attempted to cope, with heavy hearts, pushing through daily tasks in preparation for a season that was coming whether we were ready or not. Undoubtedly shaken to the core, the community these girls found in each other during this time provided a solid foundation by which they have and will continue to build their season upon.
Good teams become great in the wake of adversity. It is not always up to you when, where or how they are going to be challenged. No team is without adversity or obstacles thrown in their way, but it is how your team chooses to handle those moments that ultimately defines them.
For us, Lax-4-life has enabled 30 uniquely incredible student-athletes a platform for a unified front in fighting for victory on the field and lives beyond.
Through a love for the sport, and those who participate in it, coaches simultaneously step up to play the role of coach, guidance counselor, psychologist, teacher, mentor, mother, friend. You will never just be a coach.