Find Your Mentor

By Kathi Ricci, Assistant Coach, Mercer University  @MercerWLAX

Graduating from college and ending one’s lacrosse career is always a bittersweet moment but having the opportunity to give back to the sport you love and grew up playing is a chance to make a difference. College coaches, in all sports, have been granted the ability to help grow their athletes and the game, on and off the field. Coaches are often the ones athletes spend the majority of their four years with, whether it’s during practice, an individual session, film, or even just stopping by the office to catch up. Coaches have seen players at their worst but also at their best. A coach with years of experience has the power to change the life of not only their athletes but other coaches within the sport, especially the younger generation just beginning their coaching careers.

      Photo courtesy of Stetson Athletics.

With the exciting opportunity to grow the sport former athletes love, why is there such a big turnover rate in assistant coaches across all divisions? And why do so many of them leave coaching entirely after only a few years? These were questions asked at the 2018 IWLCA Annual Meeting which made me think, as I was a first-year assistant at that time. I showed up to the convention eager and wide eyed at the chance to learn among some of the best in the game, I wanted to soak up as much information and knowledge as possible from everyone around me including those who have coached and mentored me in the past. As a young assistant, I had so much to learn. As my first year continued, I began to think about the questions brought up at the convention. It became very clear to me that not all assistants have the same positive influences within their workplace to help them become the best possible coach they can be. The lack of guidance, resources, and outlets can create an overwhelming sensation of helplessness and lack of confidence. As players, we could measure our performance by looking at the stats, the win-loss column, and honestly from the look on our head coaches’ faces. Coaching and playing aren’t the same and a lack of instruction, support, and coaching leaves us wondering how we are doing when we are eager to learn. This, more often than not, takes the love of the game away and causes some of the best minds and players to turn to a different career, leaving the lacrosse world forever.

The IWLCA Mentoring program aims to allow mentors to influence young coaches through the teachings of their values, ideas, and experiences to promote professional growth. This program is not only a great way to network and receive advice but an opportunity to help guide the coaches to stay in the game longer. The IWLCA matches each mentee with a mentor that they think will help influence them the best. This year I signed up and was matched with one of the best head coaches in the game, Jenny Graap (Cornell University). From the very first phone call we had, there was an instant connection and I knew she was someone who I felt comfortable speaking to. With transitioning into coaching, programs like these are extremely important for the growth and longevity for young promising coaches. For me personally, I have seen the growth and I find myself eager to develop the skills that I am learning.

I encourage any young coach who is struggling to find guidance or support to seek out a mentor in the field of coaching. The list of my mentors has grown as the year goes on and I am thankful for each and every one of them. From Jenny Graap to Samantha Eustace, current Head Coach at Mercer University; to my college coach, Christy Leach, Stetson University Head Coach; and to Maggie Smith, former assistant coach at Notre Dame; they have all helped me become more confident, let go of the past, and grow into the person/coach I want to become. It can be hard to navigate this new field and make the switch from player to coach, but with support, guidance, and communication we are able to grow and stay in this profession. Just because we’re coaches now doesn’t mean we don’t still need to be coached as we tackle this new position.

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