(dress & tights: Kohls, vest & booties: Old Navy, necklace: Rue 21)
After two and a half months of chaos, basketball season officially ended the first weekend in March.
Sometimes I’m still not sure how I got roped into that job. It was long hours, frustrating games, and lots of eighth grade girl drama. And I’m officially retired as a basketball coach.
12-14 hour days and not seeing my children really took it’s toll and I’m just glad we all made it to the end. Big props to Chris Graham for being a single parent more nights than not. I don’t know how he did it.
My season as an eighth grade basketball coach definitely taught me some lessons. And to save you the trouble of one day agreeing to coach a middle school girls’ basketball team, I thought I’d share them with you.
Encourage more than critique.
I grew up playing with coaches that yelled more than praised. I learned through fear more than anything; not wanting to get yelled at made me perform better. So when I started the season with that mentality, things went downhill fast. My players are yelled at all the time: by friends, family members, strangers, their parents, etc. So having a coach yell something to make a point didn’t phase them. I was just getting more frustrated and they were not making any changes. So I changed my approach and made sure 90% of the things coming out of my mouth were reinforcing the positives. Encouraging them in what they were doing well, starting with a compliment and then, if I had to, throwing in a critique at the end.
This was momentous. It changed the way my players acted. It changed the dynamics of our team. It made them want to improve and they listened to me more. It was a powerful reminder that everyone wants approval from someone (parent, teacher, friend, spouse, coach) and that positive words do more good than negative.
Show don’t tell
This is a phrase I hear often in education. Show your students what you mean, don’t just tell them. It’s in parenting books too: live how you want your kids to live, talk how you want your kids to talk. Actions speak louder than words and to teach someone, you’ve got to show how it’s done. This was never truer than at practice. I’d explain a new drill to my players or tell them what I wanted when I yelled “block out!” but nothing would change. But the minute I would get my old self in the drill or put a butt into someone and really block a girl out, they were able to mimic me. Want others to do what you do? You have to do it first.
Always have good snacks
Once I made cuts and had established our team, the first question the girls asked was if we were going to have a snack schedule for games like they did last year. Obviously, not what I would have started our first official practice with, but it was important to them. And these girls, some of whom are on free or reduced lunch, would serve their apples and peanut butter crackers with pride before our game. And sitting around with the girls, goofing off and sharing food was a big part of building our team’s relationship. Sharing food with others–it’s powerful in any situation. Do it often.
Be yourself and people will like you more
About two weeks into our season when we were having some major drama and girls were quitting the team left and right, I had a little come-to-Jesus talk with them after school in a conference room. I was frustrated and upset and exhausted. I was brutally honest with them and said I was having a really hard time coming to practice with girls that goofed off the whole time and then got mad when they lost games. I told them that I’d rather be at home with my girls than with them acting like that and then I started crying. It was an ugly, trying-to-talk/yell-through-the-tears cry and I just knew I had lost them. They sat there with shock all over their faces and then I told them they were not allowed to leave the conference room until they could work as a team. Then I slammed the door and left.
It was very dramatic.
They spent about twenty minutes in that room. Nine eighth grade girls in a plush conference room with no adult. I don’t know what they talked about. I was too busy changing into my practice clothes and thinking how I had lost all credibility as a coach because I just cried like a baby in front of them.
But you know what happened? They worked hard in practice. They stopped fighting (not all together, but a lot less). They took practice more seriously and we won a few games soon after. And they took me more seriously. Which is laughable if you had seen the fit I threw in that room. I showed them my true self (which is kind of a baby) and told them real things (emotions and stress and concerns) and they liked me better because of it. Girls cried when our season was over. They still stop by my room and yell my name from down the hall. They miss me and I miss them. And all it took was a complete meltdown from their coach.
Always have a backup outfit
Once at a tournament, I sent my players out on the court with the wrong color uniform on. It was too late by the time I realized and I had already annoyed the referees by this point and they seemed to hold it against us the whole game. Another time, a girl’s pants split right in the butt region during warm ups. Life lesson: always have a spare change of clothes. You never know when your pants are going to split.
It’s not always about winning even though I wish it was
We lost more games than we won. We weren’t very good and we didn’t have enough of a bench to put in fresh players when everyone else put in their second string. My girls started the game and, unless they got hurt, played every minute. The majority of the season, we played with seven players and one of them had never played basketball before. Many of our games were rough. And as much as I would have loved to have a winning season, every single game we got noticeably better. If we could have started out as the team we had at the end of the season, we would have been competitive in all games.
But we weren’t.
We sucked more than not. The first few games we had some players with major meltdowns, major tantrums, major fits because they couldn’t stand to lose. But you know what happened the more we lost? We became better losers. We learned to be proud of our effort. We didn’t give up at half time. We held our heads up as we shook hands and walked off the court. We learned to lose with class and grace.
It made us better people.
Winning is great. I love to win. But my players gained more by losing this season—and hopefully those lessons will stick with them. The things we struggled with and the challenges we had, the fights, all of it will make them better players, and more importantly, better people if they take it with them.
And I pray that they do. I hope I don’t forget either.